LOS ANGELES — Steve Ballmer would prefer not to hear any more speculation about whether the Clippers might someday be headed north.
“Obviously, we’re not moving the team to Seattle,” the Clippers owner said in an interview with beat reporters at the team’s offices in downtown L.A. on Thursday – the eve of Friday’s groundbreaking for the new, privately funded, $1.8 billion, state-of-the-art Intuit Dome in Inglewood, where his Clippers are scheduled to begin playing home games in 2024.
“I don’t know if anyone’s gonna bring that up again,” Ballmer said. “I hope not.”
Intuit will have naming rights to the arena, agreeing with the Clippers on a 23-year partnership that starts now, as construction begins on the approximately 18,000-seat venue and surrounding training facility, team office space, medical clinic and outdoor plaza that will incorporate retail, food and a basketball court.
“Steve wanted a brand he admired, that valued innovation, that cared about customers,” said Clippers president of business operations Gillian Zucker, who led a tour Thursday around a floor of the team’s downtown L.A. offices set up to model features of the arena.
“He wanted a brand that cared about community … and a brand that looked good with our colors.”
Ballmer said the new arena’s location – along Century Boulevard near Prairie Avenue, across the street from SoFi Stadium, which houses the NFL’s Rams and Chargers – is what he desired too.
“I really wanted to be west of the 110 (Freeway), south of the 10 and north of the 105 – and there just aren’t that many locations,” Ballmer said. “We saw some locations that were outside and I think people would’ve said, ‘Well, you’re not really in L.A. anymore if we’re playing in Carson. I just think people think about those things differently. Especially for basketball, when you’ve got 41 home games as opposed to having eight.”
And L.A. is the place to mount a serious basketball championship pursuit, Ballmer believes.
“If you want to be the most competitive you can, this is the best market in the world to get free agents,” he said, contemplating prospects for his team after it reached the Western Conference finals for the first time last season, both this upcoming season (without injured star Kawhi Leonard), and afterward.
“I don’t see any reason why we should ever not have a good team.”
Once they move into their gleaming new digs, the Clippers won’t suffer, schedule-wise, from being prioritized third, as they are at Staples Center, where they’ve played since it opened in 1999, but which also houses the NHL’s Kings, the NBA’s Lakers and the WNBA’s Sparks.
“I knew we were the third tenant, I didn’t really know what that meant from a schedule perspective,” Ballmer said. “I hadn’t thought about it when I bought the team and then you play more and more 12:30 Saturday afternoon games and it’s harder to get fans in the building. You play Monday night against ‘Monday Night Football,’ it’s harder to get fans in the building. You’re not in on Friday nights, which is a great night.”
That can change in 2024-25 when the Clippers debut their building, which will be highlighted by a seating arrangement that features a section of 51 uninterrupted rows of seats seating about 5,000 fans in an effort to create a “wall” of sound. Also: a two-sided “Halo Board,” an oval scoreboard with 7,000 square feet of LED lights that will hang over the court without blocking any sightlines.
Fans can also look forward to no-checkout concessions (“technology willing,” Zucker said) and being able to find a bathroom nearby no matter where they are (the Clippers say the 1,500 toilets will be more than double the number per person in any other NBA arena). It’s all designed to get fans back into their seats as quickly as possible, enjoying good basketball.