Sports

By Steve Ballmer Standards, Steve Ballmer Wasn’t That Excited About Kawhi Leonard and Paul George

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JULY 24: Owner Steve Ballmer speaks as Paul George and Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers are introduced at Green Meadows Recreation Center on July 24, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Steve Ballmer introduces Paul George and Kawhi Leonard at Los Angeles’ Green Meadows Recreation Center on July 24, 2019.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Clippers pulled off quite a coup this summer when they acquired Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, a pair of superstars who transformed the franchise into championship favorites overnight. Team owner Steve Ballmer seemed pretty excited about this development when he introduced the players at a Wednesday press conference.

I have these notes,” the former Microsoft CEO said upon reaching the podium, “but I’m just FIRED UP to be here today!” We should all be happy that he disregarded those talking points, as that decision freed up Ballmer to articulate some truly inspirational thoughts.

I’m pumped! To say hello, as Clippers, to Paul and Kawhi. COME ON! Come on! COME ON!!! GET UP!!! COME ON, GET UP IF YOU ARE AS PSYCHED AS I AM. GET UP! YeeaAAAH! That’s why we’re here today! We got two guys who I am so excited to have. Two guys who are tough. You watch ‘em play they are tough, I love the toughness.

Ballmer’s introduction revealed two things:

1. Kawhi Leonard is capable of smiling. It’s just that his brain’s pleasure receptors are activated only by a billionaire’s hoarse screams.

2. That gym is full of liars. Everybody got up from their seats even though they clearly weren’t as psyched as Ballmer. I didn’t spot a single protruding forehead vein in the entire crowd.

While Ballmer’s performance was certainly high-octane by human or Formula 1 standards, it’s also the kind of thing we have come to expect from the man. Just look at how he reacted at his introductory press conference as Clippers owner in 2014.

Wednesday’s announcement was a comparatively low-key affair. On the Ballmer scale, it was like eating a NyQuil-braised turkey in the rare books room of a public library. The fact that Leonard and George were happy was a big tell—if Ballmer was truly giving it his all they would have looked just as terrified as Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and Doc Rivers were in 2014.

Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and Doc Rivers are scared of Steve Ballmer.
No. Sudden. Movements.
YouTube

Is he losing his edge? Compare his comments on Wednesday (“They are tough”) to his rapturous shrieks at Microsoft’s 25th anniversary event in 2000.

This is a man who was so moved by the simple thought of developers that he couldn’t help but scream “developers” over and over again while perspiring like a maniac.

This is what it looks like when Ballmer is excited.
This is what it looks like when Ballmer is excited.
YouTube

Ballmer barely even cracked a sweat on Wednesday. Does he even like his team’s new signings? Kawhi Leonard is a two-time NBA Finals MVP, while Paul George just finished third in the 2019 MVP race. You’d think Ballmer would yell until his molars shook free from his gums, but his soft palate was barely perturbed. He even stayed in his chair after a handshake miscommunication with Leonard.

Peak Ballmer would have fallen to the floor and pepper-grinded through the Earth’s crust, screaming “Mole people! Mole people!” at the subterranean monsters he passed on his way to the planet’s molten core. Where was that enthusiasm on Wednesday? Ballmer’s desultory performance makes you wonder whether he’ll phone it in all season. Clippers fans should hope that Leonard’s trademark energy will be contagious off the court, too.