Clippers owner and shrieking enthusiast Steve Ballmer is riding high these days. His Clippers managed a respectable rebuild without ever going into the tank; Kawhi Leonard jumped ship from a championship squad to join his outfit, and brought Paul George along for the ride; and Thursday he shared with ESPN some fancy renderings of his proposed new stadium, where if everything goes to plan his team will finally break loose from the literal shadow of Lakers championship banners. You can see why Ballmer was in a water-under-the-bridge mood about rival owner Jeanie Buss secretly giving him the nickname “Ballz” in a snotty leaked email exchange about his team’s proposed move from Staples Center.
Back in March, the Los Angeles Times published a series of emails from 2017 between Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, Buss’s top advisor Linda Rambis, and businessman Irving Azoff, wherein the trio shared angst and bewilderment over Ballmer’s plan to move his Clippers to a new arena in Inglewood. Ballmer’s move isn’t exactly super popular—among other things, it’s opposed by James Dolan’s Madison Square Garden Co., which, in addition to owning Madison Square Garden and managing the New York Knicks, owns the Forum. The Forum, which used to be the home of the Lakers, sits in Inglewood. Currently it is a concert venue, and MSG Co. feels strongly enough about a new Clippers arena nosing in on its turf that it has sued the city of Inglewood in California Superior Court in order to stop the proceedings. Azoff, according to the Times, “has close business ties with the Forum” and MSG.
The emails published by the Times are surprisingly bitchy. Azoff floated the idea of Buss moving the Lakers back to the Forum; Buss scoffed at the notion of the Clippers surviving out in the cold world without the benevolent patronage of her Lakers; weirdly, she and Azoff pretty strictly referred to Ballmer as “Ballz.” Here’s Azoff:
Tomorrow am there will be a press conference in Inglewood.. they will announce that ballz and the clippers have optioned land on century blvd to build a new arena. we were blind sided and not involved in the process. it’s a long way to fruition but we should talk about how it impacts the lakers, forum, etc.!
And here’s Buss, being rude about Ballmer, about the Clippers, and about her brother Jim, who was pushed out of the Lakers organization in 2017 after a failed coup d’état:
Didn’t Ballz see what we did to my brother?? He will have nothing but Clippers basketball. Whoopee.
I encourage you to read the entire Times report, for more uses of this goofy nickname. Ballmer was asked about all this at the big unveiling of his arena sketches Thursday. Because he is a terrifyingly jolly galoot who is on a life-long winning streak, he was pretty chill about the whole thing. Ballmer says the emails were “weird,” but that Jeanie did the right thing and apologized. Per ESPN:
“That email thing was weird,” Ballmer said. “Let me just say it was weird. I don’t know what they were trying to do precisely.”
Ballmer had a sense of humor about everything.
“First I’ll just say, Jeanie was very nice,” he added. “She followed up apologetically about that. Actually my initial reaction was they misspelled it — with a ‘z.’ My initial reaction was, ‘z?!?!’ With my last name, I won’t say I haven’t been called that before in my life. It is not the first time I have heard that.”
It’s going to take more than “Ballz” to darken Steve Ballmer’s insane euphoria.