Ballmer: Clippers forge their own identity with new arena

LA Clippers president Steve Ballmer was initially happy to play at the Staples Center, in the same building as the NHL’s Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Kings, when he bought the franchise for $ 2 billion in 2014.

But after a year, Ballmer said he realized the Clippers needed to build their own stadium if they wanted to have their own “identity.”

“We needed to say, ‘We are ourselves. We do not play in the same place as others. We are going to have our own identity,'” Ballmer told ESPN in an extensive interview before the ceremony to lay the first stone in the new arena of the Clippers in Inglewood on Friday.

Ballmer estimated that the new arena, which will be known as the Intuit Dome and is scheduled to open in the 2024-25 season, will cost him more than $ 2 billion, essentially the same price he paid for the franchise just seven years ago, but he really did. believes it is imperative for the Clippers’ success on and off the court.

“I’ve never been to a place where there are two teams in one city,” Ballmer said. “I grew up in Detroit. Everyone is a Pistons fan. And I think for many years the Clippers were bad enough, and everyone could just ignore them.”

“We are a good team now, and we are going to be good year after year. We are going to build our own building, more of our own identity, more of our own personality. And I think for some of the fans on the other side, it’s like , ‘What? You dare to question our supremacy?’ We do not do it”.

“There are 30 teams in the league. There are 29 others. And we have one that is based in Los Angeles. And we have our fans. We use our expression, ‘LA Our Way.’ And we are building our own presence, identity. What if the others feel a little threatened, the fans of the others, I mean, the players are actually a little different, but if they feel a little threatened, that’s fine. It means we are doing well. “

The Clippers reached their first Western Conference final in franchise history last season, despite losing the superstar forward. Kawhi leonard from a knee injury in the second round of the playoffs.

Leonard, who had the partially torn ACL in his right knee surgically repaired in the offseason, is expected to miss much of the 2021-22 season as he recovers. Ballmer said he’s still optimistic the team can improve from its success in last season’s playoffs.

“Every year I want to win,” Ballmer said. “Some people will talk about ‘We’re taking a step back.’ No. Our fans can count on the fact that we will try to win as many games as we can each year. Now, we suffer a small setback. We have to keep Kawhi healthy. And when I return, we will be back in full force. “

The Clippers’ biggest move this offseason was re-signing Leonard to a four-year, $ 176.3 million contract. They also acquired the base Eric Bledsoe in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies. But they will largely have the same roster as last season, minus Leonard for the duration of his rehab.

Ballmer admits that he has often thought about what might have been if Leonard hadn’t been hurt.

“It was painful,” Ballmer said. “Painful for Kawhi, painful for our team, painful for me, and most importantly, painful for our fans. But yeah, we tried. We did well. We managed to get past Utah, even without Kawhi.”

“I was proud of our guys. We were a hair or two away from winning in the Western Conference finals, even without Kawhi. We’ll see when we get him back, but basically we have most of the same team back … I’m still optimistic “.

The new arena has become an exciting project for Ballmer, 65, who retired as CEO of Microsoft in 2013 and was ranked the eighth richest person in the world by Bloomberg last month with an estimated net worth of $ 108.5 billion. .

He set out to build the most comfortable and modern stadium in the NBA and has spared no expense to create it.

Last year, Ballmer bought the Forum in Inglewood from The Madison Square Garden Company from New York Knicks owner James Dolan for $ 400 million in cash. That move cleared the lawsuit that got in the way of building a new arena near the music venue.

Ballmer said he spent years traveling the country to study stadiums and arenas, drawing inspiration from places like the student section at Duke, which will be reflected in a 51-row unbroken section of the stadium called “The Wall,” as well as the incline at the Utah’s Vivint Arena and end zone suites in football stadiums.

He also had several guiding principles from his own experience as a fan that are emphasized in the design. For Ballmer, it is essential that fans are in their seats, watching basketball and cheering as much as possible. So, to minimize the time fans have to be away from their seats, Ballmer says the Intuit Dome will have more legroom than any other stadium in the NBA, double the number of restrooms, and there will be no lines to pay in. the concession stands (everything will be ordered online).

“I feed off the energy in the building,” Ballmer said. “But people leave and are late for games or don’t come back at halftime. I really want to make sure people are in their seats so that … that energy, we feed off of it.”