LA Clippers president Steve Ballmer initially settled for playing at Staples Center – in the same building as the Los Angeles Lakers and the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings – when he bought the franchise for $ 2 billion in 2014.
But within a year, Ballmer said he realized the Clippers had to build their own stadium if they were to build their own “identity”.
âWe had to say, ‘We’re our own guys. We don’t play in the same place as the other guys. We’re going to have our own identity, “” Ballmer told ESPN in a broad interview ahead of Friday’s grand opening for the Clippers’ new arena in Inglewood.
Ballmer has estimated that the new arena, which will be known as the Intuit Dome and slated 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 truly believes it’s imperative for the Clippers’ success on and off the pitch.
âI’ve never been to a place where there were two teams in one city,â Ballmer said. âI grew up in Detroit. Everyone’s a Pistons fan. And I think for enough years the Clippers were bad enough, everyone could just ignore the Clippers.
âWe’re good now, and we’re going to be good year after year. We’re going to build our own building, plus our own identity, plus our own personality. And I think some of the fans on the other side, if you will, c is like “What? Do you dare to question our supremacy? âNo, we do.
âThere are 30 teams in the league. There are 29 more. And we have one that just happens to be based in LA And we have our fans. We use our phrase, ‘LA Our Way.’ And we build our own presence, identity. And if the other guys feel a little threatened – other guys’ fans, I mean; the players are actually a little different – but if they feel a little threatened. , that’s OK. It means we’re doing good.
The Clippers went to their first Western Conference final in franchise history last season, despite superstar forward Kawhi Leonard losing to a knee injury in the second round of the playoffs.
Leonard, who underwent surgical repair to a partially torn ACL in his right knee during the offseason, is expected to miss much of the 2021-22 season as he recovers. Ballmer said he’s always optimistic the team can build on their playoff success from last season.
âEvery year I want to win,â Ballmer said. âSome people will say ‘We are taking a step back’ or ‘We have had an injured year.’ No. Our fans can count on the fact that we are going to try to win as many games as possible each year. Now we have taken a little setback. We have to get Kawhi back to good health. And when he is back, we are off. back to full power. “
The Clippers’ biggest offseason move was re-signing Leonard to a four-year, $ 176.3 million contract. They also acquired guard Eric Bledsoe as part of a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies. But they will return largely to the same roster as last season, minus Leonard for the duration of his rehab.
Ballmer admits he often thought about what might have been if Leonard hadn’t been injured.
âIt was painful,â Ballmer said. âDoulou for Kawhi, painful for our team, painful for me and, above all, painful for our fans. But yes, we gave it a go. We did it. We managed to pass Utah, even without Kawhi.
âI was proud of our guys. We were a few mustaches from going about business in the Western Conference Finals, even without Kawhi. We’ll see when we get him back, but we have basically the same returning squad for it. next year. … I remain optimistic. “
The new arena has become an exciting project for Ballmer, 65, who retired as Microsoft CEO in 2013 and was ranked eighth richest person in the world by Bloomberg last month with an estimated net worth of 108. , 5 billion dollars.
He set out to build the most comfortable and modern arena in the NBA and spared no expense to create it.
Last year, Ballmer bought the Forum in Inglewood from The Madison Square Garden Company, owner of the New York Knicks, for $ 400 million in cash. This decision canceled the lawsuit which prevented the construction of a new arena near the concert hall.
Ballmer said he had spent years traveling the country studying stadiums and arenas, taking inspiration from places such as Duke’s student section – which will be reflected in a 51-row section of the stadium called “The Wall â- as well as the slope of the Vivint Arena in Utah and the suites in the end area of ââfootball stadiums.
He also had several guiding principles from his own fan experience that are emphasized in the design. For Ballmer, it is essential that the fans are in their place, watch the basketball and clap as much as possible. So to minimize the time fans have to be away from their seats, he says, the Intuit Dome will have more legroom than any other NBA arena, double the number of toilets and no lines. checkout at concession stands (everything will be ordered online).
âI feed off the energy of the building,â Ballmer said. “But people leave and they come late to games or they don’t come back from halftime. I really want to make sure people are in their place soâ¦ that energy, we feed off of it.”