The Seattle Times has a piece out today detailing incoming Clippers owner Steve Ballmer's foray into the shady world of high school prep sports and the wealthy parents living vicariously through their kids. Ballmer's son's basketball team at Lakeside School in Seattle sucked, and he wanted to make it un-suck. So he created a non-profit as a way to pump money and talent into the school, got friendly faces coaching positions, and pushed for an administration-wide commitment to athletics at the expense of academics. He was basically the owner of Lakeside basketball.
Much of this news is combed from a legal proceeding involving Ballmer and one-time friend and former Seattle Sonics advisor Steve Gordon. Ballmer and Gordon are being sued because of a business deal gone awry, but they have since had a falling out. So there is some sniping going on through depositions and other filed documents. Like this testimony from Gordon that sets the stage for Ballmer's Lakeside takeover:
In the car after one of his son's particularly bad games, Ballmer fumed about how Lakeside's coach was managing the team, according to Gordon's March deposition. During his rant, Ballmer began plotting a way to bring in new personnel.
"I'm going to open up a foundation, and we're going to get black people in here," Ballmer declared, according to Gordon's testimony from March.
That sounds pretty bad, but without anymore context (there is none provided) he could be talking about diversifying the team and coaching staff. The foundation he eventually started, called A PLUS, has since become a strong presence in the community, not just for Lakeside. This is according to Tavio Hobson, a friend Ballmer made assistant coach and paid under the table, and who later became head coach at Lakeside. Once A PLUS was formed, Hobson generated a second income through the foundation.
Hobson said A PLUS "is far from a vehicle to attract kids to Lakeside." It has evolved to an organization that serves 180 participants, most of them students of color, at 50 schools in 14 districts, with a program GPA of 3.14. A PLUS "is as much about learning and character as it is about athletic achievement," he said in an email.
The basketball team also seemed to get a break on academics, with some players getting special treatment, essentially full-time tutors, and more leniency when it came to poor marks than other sports. According to the football coach, who coached at Lakeside for 40 years and was on the admissions committee for 20, some basketball players were admitted to the school without the committee's consideration.
Ballmer's friends also pitched in where they could. Rich Padden, an attorney and big time supporter of A Plus, let a highly talented basketball player stay in his home, gave him money for things like food and gas, and also loaned him a car to put the gas in.
It all adds up to this: prep sports, the playground of the wealthy and possibly deranged parents, are so, so dirty. Ballmer had the money and the desire to put a plan in action to recreate his son's basketball team as a winner, and it worked.
The tactics may have violated Washington state's prep-sports rules, according to a Seattle Times investigation. But it all paid off: In just five years, Lakeside went from winless in its district to district champs for the first time in a quarter century.
Now with the Clippers, he can throw money at whatever he wants to improve the team.
Photo Credit: Getty Images