12 titans of technology who tackled sports

Steve Ballmer is just the latest in a line of geeks who got rich and then bought their way into sports, but, unlike in tech, they didn’t all hit it out of the park

Annaheim Ducks win 2007 Stanley Cup
Credit: REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has reportedly reached an agreement to buy the N.B.A’s Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion. Turns out that Ballmer is just the latest in a surprisingly long line of technology titans choosing to go into the world of sports. While they may have grown up geeking out over computers, when they got really rich, some tech execs used their newfound riches to indulge unrequited dreams of sports glory (or perhaps to compensate for something they never had growing up) by buying sports teams. Some of them have been successful in these second careers, but others have found that past success in tech does not necessarily guarantee future wins or championships on the field, court or track.

Photo of Steve Ballmer watching a basketball game.
Steve Ballmer

Geek creds: A college friend of Bill Gates at Harvard, Steve Ballmer joined Microsoft in 1980 as its first business manager, eventually being named CEO in 2000, a position he held until earlier this year. Thanks to his Microsoft stock holdings, he’s estimated to be worth $20 billion.

Sports ventures: In 2013, Ballmer tried to buy the N.B.A.’s Sacramento Kings, with an eye towards moving the team to Seattle, but lost out in the bidding to Vivek Ranadive, the founder of Tibco Software. Ballmer has since reached an agreement to buy the league’s Los Angeles Clippers, instead, which he reportedly has no plans of moving.

Record: TBD

Jim Balsillie
Credit: REUTERS/ Jason Cohn
Jim Balsillie

Geek creds: Canadian-born Balsillie co-founded Research in Motion (now known as BlackBerry) in 1994 and served as co-CEO until 2012. He recently sold all of his stock in the company.

Sports ventures: Balsillie has tried, and failed, to buy three National Hockey League (NHL) teams: the Pittsburgh Penguins (2006), the Nashville Predators (2007) and Phoenix Coyotes (2009), usually with the intention of moving the team Ontario.

Record: Zero teams owned, zero wins, zero championships.

Charles Wang
Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Charles Wang

Geek creds: Born in China, educated in the U.S., Wang co-founded Computer Associates International, in 1976, to create software for mainframes. CA was the first software company to make $1 billion in revenues. Wang retired as CEO of CA in 2000 in the wake of an accounting scandal.

Sports ventures: Owner of the NHL’s New York Islanders (bought in 2000). Previous owner of the Iowa Barnstormers/New York Dragons of the new-defunct Arena Football League (2001-2008).

Record: Two franchise moves (one completed, one pending), one historically bad player contract and zero championships (or championship game/series appearances).

Robert Pera
Robert Pera

Geek creds: A former hardware engineer for Apple who founded Ubiquiti Networks in 2005 to create wireless communications platforms for under-networked and emerging markets. The company went public in 2011 and Pera’s current net worth is just under $2 billion.

Sports ventures: Owner of the National Basketball Association's (NBA) Memphis Grizzlies (bought in 2012).

Record: One appearance in the NBA’s Western Conference Finals and one one-on-one basketball game against the Grizzlies’ Tony Allen still to be played.

Vivek Ranadivé
Vivek Ranadivé

Geek creds: The Indian born founder of Teknekron Software Systems, which "digitized Wall Street" through the introduction of The Information Bus, a software application to facilitate the real-time communication of data between information systems. Teknekron was sold to Reuters in 1994 for $125 million. Ranadivé founded TIBCO in 1997 to apply information bus technologies to other industries.

Sports ventures: Previously a minority owner of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors (bought in 2010), now principal owner of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings (bought in 2013).

Record: One NBA playoff appearance (Warriors, 2013) and one appearance in the national championship tournament by his 12 year-old daughter’s basketball team (2009), which Ranadivé coached.

Paul Allen
Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Paul Allen

Geek creds: Co-founder, along with childhood friend Bill Gates, of Microsoft in 1976. Formally resigned from the Microsoft board in 2000, but still owns a significant number of shares and is currently worth over $15 billion.

Sports ventures: Owner of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers (bought in 1988), the National Football League's (NFL) Seattle Seahawks (1997) and part owner of the and the Seattle Sounders FC of Major League Soccer (MLS) (2007).

Record: Two NBA finals appearances (1990, 1992) for the Trail Blazers, two Super Bowl appearances (XL in 2006, XLVIII in 2014) and one Lombardi Trophy (in 2014) for the Seahawks.

Stephen J. Luczo
Stephen J. Luczo

Geek creds: Has served a number of roles at Seagate, one of the world’s largest disk drive manufacturers, including SVP (1993-1997), president and COO (1997-1998) and president and CEO (1998-2004, 2009-present).

Sports ventures: Partial owner of the NBA’s Boston Celtics (since 2002) and the MLS’s Vancouver Whitecaps (since 2011). Formerly co-owner of the IndyCar racing ream Luczo Dragon Racing (2007-2011) and the National Lacrosse League's San Jose Stealth (2007-2009). He’s also sponsored athletes in a variety of other sports including surfing, adventure racing and skiing.

Record: Two NBA finals appearances (2008, 2010), one NBA championship (2008) and one appearance in the Sports Dream Celebrity Poker Tournament at the Playboy Mansion (2007).

Henry Samueli
Credit: REUTERS/Mike Blake
Henry Samueli

Geek creds: Former professor of electrical engineering at UCLA who co-founded Broadcom Corporation, a designer of semiconductors for wireless and broadband communications, in 1991. The company went public in 1998 and Samueli is currently worth $1.7 billion.

Sports ventures: Owner of the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks (bought in 2005).

Record: One Stanley Cup championship (2007) and one year-long suspension by the NHL (2008-2009) after a felony conviction for lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Mark Cuban
Credit: REUTERS/Mike Stone
Mark Cuban

Geek creds: Co-founder of Broadcast.com (originally AudioNet.com) in 1995, one of the original streamers of broadcast radio on the Internet. The company was acquired by Yahoo in 1999 for $5.7 billion. He’s currently worth $2.5 billion dollars.

Sports ventures: Owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks (bought in 2000). Failed in attempts to buy the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins (2006), and Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Chicago Cubs (2008), Texas Rangers (2010) and Los Angeles Dodgers (2012). Makes occasional appearances in the professional wrestling world.

Record: Two NBA Finals appearances (2006, 2011), one NBA championship (2011) and a steady stream of controversy.

Peter Karmanos, Jr.
Credit: REUTERS/Peter Jones
Peter Karmanos, Jr.

Geek creds: Born in Greece, Karmanos co-founded Compuware Corporation, an IT services company, in 1973. He officially retired from Compuware earlier this year and is no longer a consultant for the company.

Sports ventures: Owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes (bought in 1994 when they were the Hartford Whalers; moved to North Carolina and renamed in 1997), the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL, a major junior league) and the Florida Everblades of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL, a minor league).

Record: Two Stanley Cup Finals appearances (2002, 2006), one Stanley Cup championship (2006), one OHL championship (2007), one Kelly Cup (ECHL) championship (2012) and one son fired from the Hurricanes.

Larry Ellison
Credit: REUTERS/Robert Galbraith
Larry Ellison

Geek creds: Founder and current CEO of Oracle Corporation, maker of enterprise relationship database management systems and currently the third largest software company in the world. Ellison is the highest paid tech CEO and the 8th richest person in the world.

Sports ventures: Owner of Oracle Team USA, a sailboat racing team that has competed in multiple America’s Cup series.

Record: Two America’s Cup wins (the 33rd and 34th cups in 2010 and 2013, respectively), one loss in the finals (the 32nd cup in 2007), one loss in the Louis Vuitton Cup (to decide a challenger for the 31st America’s Cup) in 2003 and one cheating scandal.

Jeff Mallett
Credit: REUTERS/Andreas Meier
Jeff Mallett

Geek creds: Former president and COO of Yahoo, joining the company in the early days (1995), helping it to go public 1996 and staying with the company until 2002. Prior to joining Yahoo he worked for WordPerfect and Novell.

Sports ventures: Principal owner of MLB’s San Francisco Giants (joined in 2002), co-director of the MLS’s Vancouver Whitecaps (since 2011), principal investor in the UK Championship League's Derby County FC (since 2009) and formerly a part owner of the Women’s Professional Soccer league (2009-2012).

Record: Three World Series appearances for the Giants (2002, 2010, 2012), two World Series titles (2010, 2012) and one failed soccer league.