Clippers Owner Steve Ballmer Calls Death of Kobe Bryant a ‘Tragedy Beyond Tragedies’

In his first public remarks about the death of Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer called the NBA superstar's death "a tragedy of tragedies" at a gathering of venture capital investors in Pasadena.

"It's obviously a tragedy anytime someone dies that young let alone the number of people who passed away," Ballmer said, before adding that Clippers players have been personally affected.


Ballmer said he first got to know Bryant not through basketball but because of Bryant's interest in investing. He said he considers Bryant "one of the top players ever."

Ballmer, 63, bought the Clippers in 2014 after he stepped down from Microsoft, which he led as CEO from 2000-2014. With $60 billion in assets, Forbes ranks him as the 19th richest person in the world.

He was speaking on the first day of the Upfront Summit, an invitation-only gathering of venture capital investors that is being held at The Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The irony is that Microsoft is famous for building the software giant with very little VC money, part of the reason Ballmer and co-founder Bill Gates amassed among the richest fortunes on earth. Ballmer also doesn't invest in early stage companies or even individual equities, aside from his estimated $10 billion Microsoft stake.

"All we do is S&P [500] index funds," said Ballmer.

Steve Ballmer spoke on the first day of the Upfront Summit, an invitation-only gathering of venture capital investors that is being held at The Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Photos by AirCam

One time when Ballmer would appear to have been less conservative is when he paid $2 billion for the Clippers, a sum most people saw as outlandish since the previous highest amount paid for an NBA franchise was $550 million (for the Milwaukee Bucks in 2014.) Ballmer said Wednesday he had been trying to buy an NBA team for a long time and he would have increased his offer if necessary.

"I had a boundary about how high it was going to go," Ballmer said. "I told the lawyer [for the Clippers] what that boundary was. I said 'don't take advantage of me.' The truth is I probably would have gone higher."

Since then, sports valuations have ballooned as the NBA struck a new $24 billion TV rights deal and the Clippers doubled their own local cable deal. The $2 billion purchase price has been vindicated and now Ballmer is focused on constructing a new 18,500 seat arena for the Clippers in Inglewood scheduled to open in 2024.

Ballmer said arenas are expensive – this one, like others in L.A., is privately financed and not receiving public subsidies. As a result, on a strictly financial basis, building the new stadium does not make sense. But he thinks it is vital to move away from the shadow of the Lakers.

"I feel sorry for the Chargers," Ballmer said, alluding to the fact that the NFL team will be a tenant in the massive new stadium Rams owner Stan Kroenke is building in Inglewood. "Everyone calls it Rams stadium."

Owning the Clippers and running Microsoft are not as different as it would appear, according to Ballmer.

Just as Microsoft would update its Windows operating system twice a year, the Clippers "update" their roster every summer through the draft and free agency. He also compared the talent in both situations.

"Engineers are treated very, very well," Ballmer said. "Basketball players are also treated very, very well."

Ballmer said he thought software was a less competitive industry than the NBA.

"What tech business do you know where you can have 30 competitors a year?" he asked, referring to the number of NBA teams. He added that L.A. is especially tough, because of the affinity for the Lakers.

"It's weird to have two teams in a market," he said.

The Upfront Summit is expected to attract more than 1,200 attendees flocking to the Rose Bowl Jan. 29-30. The invite-only event brings together a diverse mix of entrepreneurs networking with venture players armed with billions of dollars in capital, and headlined by presentations from business leaders including Ballmer, Quibi Chief Executive Meg Whitman, Union Square Ventures' Fred Wilson, and Idealab founder Bill Gross.

Links to the conference agenda and the livestream can be found here.

Upfront Ventures holds a non-controlling, minority interest in dot.LA

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On this week's episode of LA Venture, hear from Marcos Gonzalez, the managing partner at Vamos Ventures, a seed-stage venture fund which invests in Latino and diverse founders. Over half of L.A. County is Latino. A relatively new fund, investments are in the range of $100,000 to $500,000. Seems like a great time to be investing in this community! And, Vamos is hiring...

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El Segundo-based telemedicine technology provider Cloudbreak Health and Florida-based UpHealth Holdings, a digital healthcare provider, announced they will combine and go public via a SPAC in a deal that values the combined companies at $1.35 billion.

Named UpHealth, Inc., the new company aims to streamline online health care by becoming a single provider of four different services: telehealth, teletherapy, a health care appointment and management system and an online pharmacy.

UpHealth runs healthcare platform Thrasys Inc. and MedQuest Pharmacy, along with two other behavioral health companies. The merger with Cloudbreak, which under the pandemic expanded their interpretation services to remote medicine, will give the new company a foothold in almost 2,000 hospitals.

"What we wanted to do was form a business that could really be a digital infrastructure for health care across the continuum of care, right from home to hospital," said Jamey Edwards, the co-founder and CEO of Cloudbreak. Under the agreement, he will become the company's chief operating officer.

GigCapital2 expects the merger transaction to close at the start of Q1 2021. UpHealth will be publicly traded under the ticker "UPH" on the New York Stock Exchange. UpHealth's integrated care management platform serves over 5 million people, and is expected to reach 40 million over the next three years, according to the company.

Jamey Edwards, Cloudbreak

Jamey Edwards, co-founder and executive director of Cloudbreak

COVID-19 caused a meteoric growth in the use of telehealth services. In February, 0.1% of Medicare primary visits were provided through telehealth. In April, that number was nearly 44%, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"Key stakeholders have seen and responded well to the benefits that telemedicine can bring, but they need a more comprehensive, integrated solution," said Al Gatmaitan, who has been named the co-chief executive officer of UpHealth. "This is what UpHealth focuses on, the adoption of digital health solutions well beyond the pandemic crisis."

The deal with the blank check company GigCapital2 gives the two digital health companies access to a wider network. UpHealth and its family of companies operate in 10 countries and their pharmacy has 13,000 e-prescribers in the U.S.


UpHealth will use the Cloudbreak platform as part of their global telehealth services to provide patients with round-the-clock care under a variety of specialties, including telepsychiatry and tele-urology. UpHealth also has contracts internationally, to provide country-wide care in India, Southeast Asia and Africa.

Edwards joined Cloudbreak in 2008 when it went from public to private. It has raised $35 million in venture funds, most recently in the first quarter of this year scoring $10 million from Columbia Partners Private Capital.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story identified Jamey Edwards as executive director of Cloudbreak, he is its CEO.

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With a waitlist six months out and demand growing from hotel-weary travelers, he said it isn't a priority yet.

"We almost don't need to," said Edwards.

That's because the $25,000 to $50,000 custom trailers have been a hit with a loyal fan base, and rising demand during the pandemic has only helped. Orders for compact trailers at the lower price end, including Happier Camper's 75-square-foot camper, are growing as newbie road trippers look for COVID-safe travels.

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