Steve Ballmer on the NBA, Clippers and Microsoft

If you need to find Steve Ballmer at the end of next month, look for the former Microsoft CEO at the season opener between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Ballmer: Really fun to own a sport's team!

Hoping to put the Donald Sterling saga in the past, Ballmer will usher in a new era for the Clippers, after purchasing the team for $2 billion in August. The former software exec told CNBC that, despite paying a record price for an NBA team, he thinks it was a smart investment.

"Can the Clippers make money?" Ballmer asked. "Yes. Can they make more money than any other team in the NBA? Yes, [we] should be in the upper echelon ... and particularly in Los Angeles, where this is a scarce property. This will appreciate. I expect to own this [team] as long as I'm alive. So we're talking, let's hope, 25, 30 years."

A California court in August ruled that Shelly Sterling, wife of ousted Clippers owner Donald Sterling, had the authority to sell the team on behalf of the family trust. Sterling was stripped of his ownership by the NBA after making racist remarks that became public. He had owned the team since 1981, when he put down $12.5 million for the Clippers.

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Ballmer was one of at least six serious bidders vying for ownership of the Clippers in what became a high-profile bidding war between everyone from Grant Hill to David Geffen.

Ballmer, who is worth $23 billion, according to Forbes, said the Clippers purchase came out of a desire to pursue a new, post-Microsoft chapter to his career. He said that Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, told him how fun it was to own a professional sports team.

"I liked football a lot too," Ballmer said, "but basketball clearly is my first love."

Steve Ballmer, Los Angeles Clippers, during an interview with CNBC.
Karen Stern | CNBC

Ballmer said he will bring his well-known enthusiasm and emotion to his new role as the Clippers owner. He plans to let Doc Rivers continue to run basketball operations, preferring himself to stay on the sidelines running the business side of the team.

Previously, Ballmer tried to purchase the Sacramento Kings and relocate them to his hometown of Seattle. However, he said Clippers fans don't have to worry about him moving the team out of Los Angeles.

"The clippers are the LA Clippers, and they will remain the LA Clippers," he said. "There is no question about that. I live in Seattle. I will continue to live in Seattle. I'll be down here a lot for the games."

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Richard Parsons, who's winding down his stint as interim CEO of the Clippers, told CNBC on Thursday that Ballmer is going to be great for the team.

"Ballmer is going to be a very good owner," the former Time Warner chief said in a "Squawk Box" interview. "He brings tons of enthusiasm. And he's going to support the team ... [not] just put financial resources in, he's going to be a superfan."

"He cares about winning. He cares about the fans and they're going to feel the love," Parsons added.

Ballmer: I'm a very positive leader

Ballmer succeeded billionaire Bill Gates as Microsoft's CEO in 2000.

Under his leadership, the software giant's revenue tripled to $83 billion, but the stock fell 22 percent. Critics charge that Ballmer missed key technology trends such as social media, mobile technology and cloud services. It's a criticism that Ballmer disputes.

"No one company will do everything," he said. "Apple is a failure because they missed social? Nobody would say that, because they are having great success. We've had great success. Do I believe, with 20/20 hindsight, that we could have navigated mobile differently than we did? Yes, I do. Do I think the company's on the right path today? Yes, I do."

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Ballmer praised his successor, Satya Nadella, as have investors. Since Nadella became CEO on Feb. 4, Microsoft's stock is up nearly 30 percent, far outpacing both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq.

Ballmer said that Nadella's strategy of concentrating on mobile technology and cloud services is the right one, though he cautioned that it will be many years before investors can be certain.

"The truth is that you can't really tell how anybody's doing in the tech business for at least five or 10 years," Ballmer said.