Five recent events define the Clippers organization move from the lesser known professional basketball team in Los Angeles. Move to where is yet to be seen, but the timeline of the organization’s recent history can be summed up as follows: (1) Clippers front office drafted Blake Griffin; (2) former National Basketball Association (NBA) Commissioner David Stern nixing the trade between the New Orleans Pelicans of Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers (and instead to the Los Angeles Clippers to join Griffin and DeAndre Jordan); (3) former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer purchasing the Clippers organization from the rejected Donald Sterling for $2 billion; (4) the Clippers front office trading Griffin and Paul and signing free agent Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George; and finally, (5) Clippers owner Steve Ballmer ending litigation with the Madison Square Garden Company (run by the Dolan family, owners of the New York Knicks) to purchase The Forum for $400 million in cash.
Yes, The Forum, the former home of the Los Angeles Lakers and now a concert venue that sits in the lot next to Ballmer’s lot where the organization wants to build the Clippers new billion-dollar basketball arena. The basketball arena will easily surpass a billion dollars in cost and will sit across the street from the nearly $7 billion development by Stan Kroenke, owner of the National Football League Los Angeles Rams, with the SoFi Stadium and the L.A. Stadium Entertainment and Sports District, set to open in 2021. The move will separate the Clippers from the Lakers from playing in the same venue, both tenants of the Staples Center since 1999.
Much like the mid-century sailboat that the Clippers are named after via the Buffalo (Braves) and San Diego, the organization now embarks on a journey through the stewardship of Ballmer, Leonard, and George. By the time the new venue is built, however, Leonard and George will both have the choice to enter free agency again (2021-2022). Ballmer and the front office therefore will have some work to do to secure a successful future. It is of note that Laker-great Jerry West moved to the Clippers front office via the Board in 2017.
Where all five Clipper events are significant and demonstrate a change in organizational direction and leadership, arguably the fifth is most important. It is an investment in the long-term future. As good as Leonard and George are, their tenures may end before the venue is lifted. Moreover, the venue demonstrates a move beyond the front office to stake its flag in the ground beyond the Lakers championship walls of the Staples Center. Further, by now controlling The Forum, the Lakers former home, the move encroaches on Lakers history. It will be interesting to see (1) how long the forum stays standing and (2) whether the development in general will give a hat tip to the past for both the Clippers and the Lakers for strategic and branding purposes.
Overall, Ballmer has not been shy, and neither has Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, about challenging Lakers history and dominance. Of course, success on the court or in any sport is what history remembers and once the NBA season resumes, the 2020 playoffs will determine the winner of the argument this year. Long-term, Ballmer should be applauded for picking up his stakes and moving to Inglewood to seek a new future different from what the Clippers organization has been known.