LOS ANGELES — Steve Ballmer was on stage, celebrating the recent arrivals of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, when he appeared to suddenly lose control of his arms and legs.
As more than 1,000 season ticket holders looked on at The Wiltern Theater, the Los Angeles Clippers' excitable owner began pantomiming basketball actions and narrating his own moves. Well-known for his over-the-top inspirational speeches during his time as Microsoft's CEO, Ballmer cranked up the energy as he impersonated his two new all-star forwards by dribbling, passing and shooting an invisible ball. The one-man show, imbued with Ballmer's childlike love for the sport, drew laughs and cheers before his message turned serious.
"We want to continue to get the best [players] like Kawhi and Paul," Ballmer told the crowd at the invite-only fan event on Thursday. "We're putting an amazing amount of effort into getting that player experience to be stupendous. We want this to be a destination for the great players of all time."
The centerpiece of the Clippers' ambitious long-term vision is a proposed state-of-the-art, 26-acre arena complex in Inglewood, slated to break ground in 2021 and open in 2024. The project, which will be entirely privately financed, will include new corporate offices, a new practice facility, and an 18,500-seat arena that Ballmer helped design. According to team sources, the complex's price tag will surpass $1 billion.
Once completed, the Clippers' new home would share many characteristics with the Chase Center, the Golden State Warriors' glitzy new San Francisco arena, which is set to open this fall. Both projects will incorporate an indoor/outdoor aesthetic within a city setting, boasting fan-friendly plazas and nearby dining options. Both will serve as one-stop shops for their organizations, providing workspace for basketball and business side employees. And both will be constructed without taxpayer money, a rarity in professional sports.
Yet Ballmer, who purchased the Clippers for a then-record $2 billion in 2014 and whose net worth now reaches $50 billion, insisted on a key distinguishing characteristic. The Chase Center was designed to accommodate a wide variety of music concerts and shows. The Staples Center, which is currently home to the Clippers, is a multiuse facility that also hosts hockey games, concerts and awards shows. By contrast, the Clippers' as-yet-unnamed arena will be focused on hoops.
"This building is going to be the number one basketball venue in the world," Ballmer said, noting that it would have a "closer and tighter" fan experience by cutting out hockey. "We deserve to have a house of our own. A new house. A permanent house. Our house."
The Clippers have played at the Staples Center since 1999, but sharing a building with the Los Angeles Lakers and the NHL's Los Angeles Kings has had its drawbacks. Per the terms of their lease, which ends in 2024, the Clippers are the building's third tenant and must schedule their games around the other two teams.
In addition to inconvenient start times and less-than-desirable dates, sharing a building with the more accomplished Lakers has led to sibling squabbles. When Coach Doc Rivers arrived in 2013, the Clippers began utilizing large signs to cover up the Lakers' championship banners during their home games.
"You have an opportunity to write your own story, to build something," Clippers president Lawrence Frank said. "Staples, many times, is identified more as a Lakers building. When Doc first got here, I thought it was genius to make it more of a Clippers experience. Having our own house [is the next step]."
The Clippers' design process, which launched three years ago, included a cross-country tour of numerous basketball stadiums. Chris Meany, the co-founder of the arena development company Wilson Meany, said that Ballmer identified key aspects of other buildings that he wanted to emulate. The outdoor plaza concept was modeled after the Toronto Raptors' famed "Jurassic Park" fan viewing area, and a plan for an auxiliary basketball court to host fan and sponsor events was inspired by the Indiana Pacers.
Ballmer was also taken by the intensity of the Utah Jazz's home crowd and by the raucous environments at European soccer and college basketball games. Hoping to get his "home-court pumping and thumping," he conceived of a special seating area that has been dubbed, "The wall of sound."
"When you go to a soccer match and you have that great, intense fan experience," Meany said. "It's a little rowdier, louder and more fun. [Ballmer] believes that's a competitive advantage. He's building a wall behind the basket that goes from the floor to the rafters without a break [between an upper and lower bowl]. That maximum number of seats, in a wall, will be where the most energetic fans can sit, and it will have a big effect on your sense of the game."
The new arena's court will be set 30 feet below street-level, its concourses will have indoor and outdoor "zones" for eating and drinking, and its roof will feature a gold design that depicts a ball going through the hoop. Adjacent to the arena will be an open area with a community basketball court and a large LED television screen for outdoor viewing parties.
The proposed arena location is roughly 10 miles southwest of Staples Center and three miles east of Los Angeles International Airport. It sits close to two other major venues: The Forum, the former home of the Lakers, and the new NFL stadium that will house the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers.
Before construction can begin, the Clippers must undertake an environmental review, complete negotiations with Inglewood Mayor James Butts, and resolve a number of legal challenges, including two lawsuits brought by Madison Square Garden, which owns The Forum.
While Ballmer said that Butts has been "grinding us pretty hard" during the yearslong planning process, he remained confident the arena will open on schedule despite the unresolved hurdles.
"In 2024," he pledged, before adding a final dash of signature glee. "After we've won a number of championships."