After the thumping, pre-event soundtrack of Kanye West and Roddy Ricch finished, but before Kawhi Leonard and Paul George grabbed chrome-tipped shovels and moved ceremonial piles of dirt, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer walked onto a scaled-down model of a basketball court near the corner of Inglewood’s Prairie Avenue and Century Boulevard to describe what he likes most about the Intuit Dome, the billion-dollar arena whose groundbreaking was celebrated Friday.
He highlighted the 18,000-seat arena’s unique architecture, roaring acoustics, state-of-the-art technology and its thousand-plus toilets.
“I like to think about it as a basketball palazzo, an homage to the game of basketball,” Ballmer said. “It’s not the Hall of Fame but with as many championships as we’re going to win, here it’ll be better than the Hall of Fame.”
At the mention of championships, of which the Clippers have none in their 51-year franchise history, a roar of noise swallowed his last words, coming only months removed from the team’s first conference finals appearance. Leonard and George, the team’s headlining All-Stars from the Los Angeles area, watched from seats along the model court’s baseline.
What Ballmer liked most, he bellowed, was that his team will have the billion-dollar arena all to itself.
“We want to build a home that is of our own, that sets a standard for us,” Ballmer said at a ceremony lent the air of a pep rally by seats filled by local and state officials, players and team executives and hand-picked fans. “We don’t play in anybody’s shadow.”
The word “Lakers” was rarely uttered during the course of Friday’s hour-long show, most notably coming when Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts’ introduction of Clippers coach Tyronn Lue referenced his time as a “former Laker.” But the mentions for a home of the Clippers’ own were no mistake but a nod toward the team’s eagerness to leave Staples Center, the home they have shared since 1999 with the Kings, Lakers and Sparks. The Clippers’ lease ends in 2024, the same year the team plans to move into Intuit Dome to begin the 2024-25 NBA season.
“If you share a building with not one but two teams it’s a very difficult task, it really is,” said Jerry West, a consultant to Ballmer and Clippers executives since 2017, whose Hall of Fame career was burnished during stops with the Lakers as a league-leading player and executive. “For the players when they go in here they know this building is dedicated to them. Nothing else is going to matter. They can have what they want around, they can have their own identity without having to you know, look at all the Laker greats that have played up there [in the rafters] and the enormous success the franchise has had, and also the Kings themselves.
“It’s like separating — I guess a family gets too large, you’re separating your families and they have their own home now and this is what he’s doing.”
Structurally, the Clippers did not need a new arena. Staples Center is planning large-scale renovations, and Ballmer has said he planned to stay downtown long-term upon purchasing the team in 2014, even going so far as to tell Gillian Zucker, the team’s president of business operations, during her job interview not to consider such an idea of a Clippers-only arena.
But within a year they were driving around Los Angeles, scouting locations because of a belief that within a crowded market, they felt a need to energize the team’s “identity.”
Since 1999, the Clippers and Lakers have been the only NBA teams sharing a home court, and the Clippers have long felt frustrated by an arrangement where they have third choice for home dates, including afternoon weekend games that are often less lucrative.
“I attended a whole lot of 12:30 p.m. games with sleep-deprived players rubbing bleary eyes in timeouts,” Ballmer said. “Don’t like those 12:30 p.m. games on Saturdays and believe me in our own building we don’t have to play as many.”
Said West: “The Clippers have been in a great building in Staples but when you are the third tenant in the building, I mean my goodness we have the worst schedule every year.”
Even Clippers home games can feel tilted against their favor. Former coach Doc Rivers was heavily criticized for his decision to cover the Lakers’ banners and retired jerseys that hang in the Staples Center’s rafters during Clippers home games. When Leonard grabbed a microphone at midcourt to welcome fans before his first game as a Clipper in 2018, the cheers were met equally by boos from Lakers fans.
Ballmer wanted a building that sounded, all season, like in June during Game 6 in the second round of the playoffs, when a booming Staples Center crowd united behind the Clippers saw them dispatch Utah in a comeback that secured their first conference finals appearance.
“We’re here to cheer, we’re here to win,” Ballmer said. “At the Intuit Dome you’re not gonna be a spectator, you need to be a participant.”
A participant whose favorite team, Leonard said in a team-produced promotional video, “better be the Clips.”
“If you’ve been around this city the Lakers are probably the most favorite sports team of all and I don’t think that’s what [is in] Steve’s timeline,” West said. “He wants his own identity.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Source: Yahoo Sports