How a futuristic $2 billion sports hall will help the Clippers in the battle for LA hoops

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Steve Ballmer, wearing a black construction helmet and yellow safety vest, stands in a cavernous area where the Intuit Dome loading dock will be.

Even though the area is uneven ground right now, the LA Clippers owner knows the layout. Ballmer, who visits the site monthly, outlines where the visiting team’s locker room will be and makes sure to mention a detail in the design plans for the Clippers’ new home.

“As you know, there are back rooms in [ Arena that connect locker rooms] between visitors,” Ballmer told ESPN during a tour of the Inglewood construction site in late July.

“Yeah, we don’t want that. I’ll just say that. And that ? We don’t want corridors between locker rooms.

Sorry, Chris Paul, but the NBA’s richest owner spares no detail when it comes to his $2 billion+ privately funded arena, slated to open in the 2024-25 season. . Footing the bill, Ballmer has his fingerprints all over what will be Inglewood’s last modern sports hall – located across from the $5 billion-plus SoFi stadium – with an entrance on everything from the LED sign in the shape of a halo from 38,375 square feet to the 640 toilets (twice as many as any other arena) down to inches of space between fans’ knees and the seat in front of them.

Ballmer has spent billions on the Clippers’ present and future. He has built an organization ready to compete for the Championship this season with Kawhi Leonard set to return from an ACL injury. The Clippers, however, aren’t just trying to compete with 29 other teams for a title. They must live and play in a city that has long been a purple and gold city.

Ballmer is trying to change that, even if it means planting the Clippers logo in as much sidewalk as possible. Recently, he and his wife, Connie, celebrated renovating 350 public basketball courts, each with a Clippers logo on them, so that current and future generations can play in Los Angeles. And now it’s just a few years away from giving the franchise its first real home in Southern California, a futuristic LA landmark that will be designed to give fans every comfort in hopes of developing a real edge over the ground.

“I think it will be so cool,” Ballmer said when asked if he could have ever imagined the Clippers having their own home after sharing a building in a city that leans heavily towards the Los Angeles Lakers. . “And it has to be. You said it was a Lakers town. No. [It’s a] Laker Clipper [town].

“And one day I want to be able to say Clipper-Laker [town].”

The famous Ballmer gets so excited during matches that he rips his shirt off. So it’s a good thing he’s wearing a helmet on this tour, because the giddy Clippers owner can barely keep his feet up when he talks about his new award – designed to be second to none.

“It’s another statement that goes, ‘Hey look, we’re nobody’s little brother,'” Ballmer said. “We are a real team.

WHILE THE CONCRETE the foundation of the frame is in, there is an area where the steel beams rise up and out. Here there is a black and white sign to indicate the landmark of one of Ballmer’s favorite features – “The Wall”.

Ballmer likes to call it “the wall of sound,” where 5,000 fans will fill 51 unbroken rows to give the Intuit Dome a student section field feel. The Clippers even brought in sound experts from The Forum — which Ballmer bought for $400 million from the Madison Square Garden Company to pave the way for building the Intuit Dome — to improve the acoustics and make The Wall just as great. of a home advantage as possible.

Ballmer has been reviewing digital renders of The Wall, but now he can see it come to life. At the bottom of the wall is the outline of a baseline marked in green where the basketball court is supposed to be drawn into the dirt floor.

Looking up at the steel girders, Ballmer envisions what he wants to see and hear not just from the 18,000 fans who will be in attendance, but from that specific area.

“You’re just looking 51 rows up, you’re literally standing up here,” Ballmer says, pointing up from the baseline where his courtside seat will be under a basket.

“Clips! Ballmer shouts, deepening his voice. “‘Let’s Go Clips!'”

Ballmer and Clippers executives have visited at least 16 NBA arenas and overseas venues in Europe. Members of the organization have traveled to places such as Utah’s Vivint Arena, where the Jazz have one of the loudest crowds in the league. Ballmer attended regular season and postseason games in Toronto (Scotiabank Arena), Minnesota (Target Center), Dallas (American Airlines Center), Houston (Toyota Center), San Antonio (AT&T Center), Phoenix ( Footprint Center), Golden State (Oracle Arena and Chase Center), and Portland (Moda Center), among others, to see how loud these buildings are and gather details about what makes players, their families, and even their agents feel as comfortable as possible.

“You’re just copying ideas,” Ballmer says. “These guys have a great training facility. Copy that idea. These guys have a great player space. These guys have family spaces. Very important. Because we want our players to say, ‘Yeah, that’s our house. … We literally [will have] a [rehab] outdoor pool because we are here in California.”

Ballmer is obsessed with the details, such as how to get fans to the restroom or concessions and back to their seats without missing a moment in-game. He wants fans to be able to select concession items as if they pick food from their own kitchen and skip the lines by paying with technology designed to create a hassle-free experience. There will be 199 game clocks installed around the arena to notify fans when play resumes.

Since buying the Clippers for $2 billion in 2014, Ballmer has tried to give his franchise the best money can buy. But he was unable to give his team its own home as it shares Arena (formerly Staples Center) with the Lakers, NHL Kings and WNBA Sparks.

With their own arena, the Clippers won’t have to worry about having to play less-than-desirable weekend games at 12:30 p.m. — a source of frustration for Clippers players and coaches — while the Lakers or Kings play at night.

For a team with championship hopes, disadvantages like this can impact the title chase. Early starts may attract fewer fans.

Starting in 2024, the Clippers will not only have the best times, but Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts believes they will have their own city full of fans. Butts scoffed when asked what it would mean for the Clippers to have their own arena in a city full of Lakers fans.

“Well, first of all, I don’t even think that’s true,” Butts said last month when he and Ballmer celebrated the completion of the Intuit dome’s concrete framework. “The Lakers left us [The Forum in Inglewood] and they are in Los Angeles.

“I think we have a plethora of Clipper fans. And I think people are going to be so excited because it’s going to be the newest and greatest basketball arena in the world.”

LIKE THE TOUR calms down, Ballmer begins to climb a wide dirt ramp to the top when asked about the Clippers course to try to win a championship.

It will be year 4 of the Leonard-Paul George era. The result so far has been the Clippers making their first-ever Western Conference Finals in 2020-21, but injuries and the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have held back their championship hopes.

Leonard hasn’t played in a game since Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Jazz on June 14, 2021. And George has been limited to just 31 games in 2021-22, missing a good chunk of the season. last because of an elbow injury. . After returning at the end of the season, George was sidelined by COVID-19 for the Clippers loss to New Orleans.

“I’m very excited,” Ballmer said of the Clippers entering this season as one of Las Vegas bettors’ favorites to win it all. “I really think we have a very good team. … We want to compete for the championships. We were in position two years ago when Kawhi fell. It’s difficult without your best player.

“It’s really hard to win an NBA championship,” adds Ballmer. “But we have a guy who’s done it twice. And you need one.”

Ballmer also knows his team needs its own home. And in a few seasons, he will have it.

Gazing down from where the club level will be and looking towards a chalky dirt outline of where the basketball court will be, Ballmer allows himself to daydream about the possibilities of what lies ahead.

“This,” Ballmer said, “is our home, man.”