Sep 19, 2021
LA Clippers chairman Steve Ballmer initially was content to play 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 needed to build their own arena if they wanted to build their own "identity." "We needed 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 Media in a wide-ranging interview in advance of Friday's groundbreaking for the Clippers' new arena in Inglewood. Ballmer estimated the new arena, which will be known as the Intuit Dome and is scheduled to open for the 2024-25 season, will cost him upward of $2 billion -- essentially the same price he paid for the franchise just seven years ago -- but he truly believes it is imperative to the Clippers' success on and off the court. "I've never been in a place where you had two teams in a town," Ballmer said. "I grew up in Detroit. Everybody's a Pistons fan. And I think for enough years the Clippers were bad enough, everybody could just ignore the Clippers. "We're good now, and we're going to be good year in and year out. We're going to build our own building, more of our own identity, more of our own personality. And I think some of the fans on the other side, if you will, it's like, 'What? You dare to question our supremacy?' No, we do. "There's 30 teams in the league. There's 29 others. And we got one that happens to be based in L.A. And we got our fans. We use our expression, 'LA Our Way.' And we're building our own presence, identity. And if the other guys feel a little threatened -- the other guys' fans, I mean; the players are actually a little different deal -- but if they feel a little threatened, that's OK. It means we're doing good." The Clippers went to their first Western Conference finals in franchise history last season, despite losing superstar forward Kawhi Leonard to 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 optimistic that the team can build off its playoff success from last season.' No. Our fans can count on the fact that we are going to try to win as many ballgames as we can every year. Now, we took a little setback. We got to get Kawhi healthy. And when he's back, we're back at full strength." The Clippers' biggest offseason move was re-signing Leonard to a four-year, $176.3 million contract. Ballmer admits he has often thought of what could have been if Leonard hadn't gotten 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 gave it a go. We gave it a good go. We managed to push past Utah, even without Kawhi. "I was proud of our guys. We were within a whisker or two of taking care of business in the Western Conference finals, even without Kawhi. We'll see when we get him back, but we basically have most of the same team back for next year. ... I remain optimistic." The new arena has become something of a passion project for Ballmer, 65, who retired as Microsoft's CEO in 2013 and was ranked as the eighth-richest person in the world by Bloomberg last month with a net worth of an estimated $108.5 billion.