Steve Ballmer overtakes Paul Allen for richest owner title if NBA returns to Seattle

Move over Paul Allen.

If the NBA does indeed return to Seattle, there is a pretty good chance the owner of the Portland Trail Blazers, who can boast being the richest team owner in the league, will be knocked off his lofty pedestal.

On Wednesday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and two members of the Nordstrom family — Eric and Peter – were announced as part of the investor group seeking to bring a franchise to Seattle and build a proposed $490 million arena according to San Francisco hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen.

Don’t look now but things are starting to heat up.

With the big bank backing of Ballmer and the Nordstom’s, Hansen may be able to show off more green than a vintage Sonics jersey.

The news of Ballmer’s financial backing in particular comes days after Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn met with NBA Commissioner David Stern in New York City on Monday to make his plea to bring the NBA back to town.

But Wednesday’s announcement is such a bigger piece to the puzzle and easily puts Ballmer in an ownership position actually years in the making.

According to Forbes ranking of the world’s billionaires, the 56-year-old Ballmer would be the league’s richest owner. He ranks 44th (and 19th in the U.S.) on the list, with $15.7 billion, while Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen — currently the richest owner in the NBA — at 48th globally with $14.2 billion according to Forbes.

Cha-ching. Business will be very good for both the returning Sonics and Blazers if this whole “bring the NBA back to Seattle” dream becomes a reality. Imagine the renewed rivalry up and down I-5 between the two teams, particularly these two big spending owners.

Ballmer, who succeeded Allen’s good old friend and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, is known just as much a hoops fan as Allen and equally competitive when it comes to both small and big business alike. And back when there was a major push to makeover Key Arena, Ballmer was front and center much like he was during many Sonics’ games throughout the years. He hated to see Clay Bennett move the team to Oklahoma City in 2008.

And he would love to bring the Sonics back to where they rightfully belong.

But before Ballmer goes all in on the NBA and new arena investment front and step into a team ownership role, he may want to make a call to Allen to be fully aware what he is getting in to.

While Hansen, Ballmer, the Nordstroms and a list of other potential investors eagerly prepare for all the excitement this ownership group will experience Allen knows first hand how times can get tough.

Allen survived the bankruptcy of the Rose Garden, gave up ownership of the arena in 2004, only to buy it back in 2007. Now Allen is having to deal with the on-going rumors of selling the team, speculation he adamantly denies.

“I don’t know where that would come from,” Allen said Wednesday as Portland held pre-draft workouts.

“I don’t understand it because of course I’m the person who knows and I know the answer and I’ve stated the answer multiple times. The team’s not for sale. So it’s mysterious and there are these mysterious figures lurking in the background whispering things but who are they? Only a few people know.”

This much we do know: the Blazers aren’t going anywhere, and Seattle – sooner or later — will be an NBA town once again thanks to all the key players involved like Steve Ballmer.

Through a spokesperson, Ballmer declined comment regarding his involvement in helping bring the NBA back to Seattle.

It looks like he just might let his money speak for him.