Ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has a new obsession: Toilets

What do tech leaders do when they leave the scene? They focus on some of the more basic things in life.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

He really cares about toilets.

Screenshot by ZDNet

The sight of him getting excitable can make grown adults squint.

With either disbelief or embarrassment.

Steve Ballmer is still at it, expressing himself in ways that seem simultaneously unbelievable and unnatural.

It's his thing, I suppose. Even if some find his aggressive thigh-grabbing a little much.

Having left Microsoft, Ballmer took another then-mediocre brand -- the Los Angeles Clippers -- and turned it into an improved mediocre brand. (Disclosure: Golden State Warriors fan.)

You, though, will be wondering whether he's found sufficient excitement being an NBA franchise owner. It can't be easy dealing with fragile egos such as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

I can tell you he's injecting so much of his enormous emotional well into a new project -- building the Clippers' new arena in Inglewood, California.

No, it won't make them any better as a team. But, once it's built, it'll have so many aspects that'll make fans forget the team's woes.

There is, naturally, a lot of tech going into it. Why, Intuit, the financial software company, is spending $500 million just to put its name on the door. I mean, the dome. Yes, this new palace of playoff not-quites will be called the Intuit Dome.

So much intuition is going into the construction. There'll be fewer luxury boxes in order to create a greater focus on the game. Well, in the fourth quarter.

Yet the most important aspect, the one closest to Ballmer's, well, heart, is one you might not expect.

He declared it fully to the Washington Post: "The thing I hate most in life is arenas where you have to wait in line for the bathroom."

There's a privileged view, some might say. I can think of a couple of things that may be worse. Visiting fans who won't shut up, for example. Or home team fans who get drunk and offer abusive comments. Or people who sit on their phones and don't watch the game at all.

But no, for Ballmer, the greatest indignation revolves around urination.

"I've become a real obsessive about toilets," he said. "Toilets, toilets, toilets."

And you thought him screaming "developers, developers, developers" was the apogee of modern thought. It was the mere prologue to latrines fit for queens.

It's unclear just what nuances Ballmer's obsession with toilets might embrace. Will the toilets have fluffy seats? Will the men's urinatory areas have little video screens perched above them? Or will there be no urinatory areas at all, with every man having his own private cubicle in which to contemplate the ebbs and flows of the game?

Please don't forget that Ballmer is a man of tech. He's about solving problems in the most absorbing of ways. So the Intuit Dome will have one toilet for every 27 seats.

This is truly remarkable, a far greater toilet concentration than any other NBA arena.

Why, in a recent speech, Ballmer explained how the Utah Jazz have, in their upper bowl, one toilet for every 79 people.

"It's a big deal when the game's tied in the fourth quarter," he said. Oh, but diehard fans know when to go and when not to go. They maintain excellent control, understanding the flow of the game.

Still, Ballmer claims to have had engineers examining people's bathroom habits -- as it were -- in order to conclude that, yes, the Intuit Dome needed 1,500 toilet fixtures.

"We can get you in and out, and you're not even going to have to hustle around," he insisted.

He added: "You walk. You take care of your business. You come back."

He thinks his engineers have got it right. He thinks. But he concedes that you never know until it's real-life -- something a couple of Microsoft software designers might have learned in years gone by.

Still, the attention to detail is uplifting.

One can imagine season ticket holders forming social media groups entitled, say, the Row 131 Marie Antoilettes.

One can imagine people using their magical watches to time how long it takes them to get from their seats to their toilet seats and back. And suing the Clippers if they've missed a play.

Still, what a wonderful reason to go to a Clippers game.

"It wasn't much of a game, but man, I was in and out of those toilets in 19.3 seconds."

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