Clippers owner Steve Ballmer certainly aims high.
The former CEO of Microsoft and majority owner of the Clippers unveiled plans Thursday for a new multi-billion dollar, state-of-the-art facility, one day after the team officially announced the acquisitions of All-NBA players Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.
While Leonard was briefed on the possibility of a new arena – which Ballmer said will be entirely privately funded – it wasn’t something meant to convince the 2019 Finals MVP to choose the Clippers. For Ballmer, it was more about showing the All-Star that he is committed to improving the franchise.
“I want it to be beautiful,” Ballmer told ESPN. “But I want it to be about basketball. I want it to be comfortable. But I want it to be about basketball.”
He continued: “Being in L.A., the free-agency thing will always be a little more important to us. That means we’ve got to invest in the player’s experience.”
The building does face opposition from Madison Square Garden, which owns The Forum, which sits less than a mile away from the proposed site for the new arena in Inglewood, California.
The litigation surrounding the proposition could take a while to figure out, but Ballmer sounds confident the plans will come to fruition.
“This is really going to happen,” Ballmer said he told Leonard. “Obviously we have to go through the process… the lawsuits that Madison Square Garden has brought, but we are feeling confident that we can build our stadium in Inglewood.”
Ballmer wants the building to hearken back to college basketball, with large sections devoted to rows and rows of stands completely absent of suites and boxes.
He wants to have a portion of the seats behind one basket from the floor to the top row dedicated to fans, and above all else – noise.
“I want it to be a noisy building,” Ballmer said of the section he dubbed “The Wall of Sound.” “I really want that kind of energy; think Oracle has been that way, Utah, Portland has got good energy. I think our Clipper fan base is a little more tenacious. They’re people (who have) decided they’re sticking with us, and now I think we will get new kinds of fans with Paul and Kawhi joining us but I think it is a hardcore fan base. I think that we can get real noise, real energy in the building.”
Ballmer said he’s aiming for the stadium to be ready by 2024. Leonard and George might not ever play there, as both could be free agents after the 2021-22 season.
But Ballmer was clear, while this was something to show off to the team’s new star players, this is about more than them. It’s about the Clippers’ brand.
“I don’t want to say it was a major milestone in the meeting but we did share because it is another statement that we are really committed,” Ballmer said. “I don’t know how it’s humanly possible but I still occasionally get a question about it; will your team move to Seattle? We are building our billion-dollar-plus house here in Inglewood, California.”