The ambitious, privately financed project has encountered local resistance as well as three lawsuits involving MSG, which didn’t want a competitor to the Forum, a 17,500-seat venue that hosts concerts and was home to the Los Angeles Lakers from 1967 to 1999. Rather than wait for the legal process to unfold, Ballmer, whose estimated $50 billion net worth makes him the NBA’s wealthiest owner, paid to make his legal problems with MSG Chairman James Dolan, who owns the New York Knicks, go away.
The sale price is noteworthy given that the Forum opened in 1967 and hasn’t had a professional sports tenant in nearly 20 years. By comparison, Staples Center, a modern, multiuse building, cost $375 million to build when it opened in 1999. The Forum’s sale will close before July.
The Clippers will keep the Forum open as an entertainment venue rather than shuttering or demolishing the building, noting in a news release that current employees will be granted job offers and that the arenas will eventually feature “coordinated programming."
That plan is in keeping with Ballmer’s vision for his new basketball-centric arena, which he has pitched as “the number one basketball venue in the world.” Unlike Staples Center, the Clippers’ arena will not accommodate a hockey team, which will facilitate a more intimate experience.
The Clippers have grown frustrated with being the “third tenant” of Staples Center, a status that has often required them to play on less desirable dates or in matinee time slots because of their shared occupancy with the Lakers and the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings.
“We deserve to have a house of our own," Ballmer said in July, when he was hoping to break ground in 2021 and to open in 2024. “A new house. A permanent house. Our house.”
The novel coronavirus crisis has represented a major financial challenge for professional sports leagues and owners. After the NBA suspended its season March 11, the league’s owners have braced for a $1 billion financial hit if play can’t resume this summer. Some owners have considered slashing salaries for team employees, and arena workers have been laid off across the country.
Yet Ballmer is moving ahead with his major developmental plans.
“This is an unprecedented time, but we believe in our collective future,” he said in a statement. “We are committed to our investment in the City of Inglewood, which will be good for the community, the Clippers, and our fans.”
More on the NBA: