HOOPS HYPE: Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament compliments Steve Ballmer on his low-post game, which he said he remembers from a ’90s community basketball event in Seattle. The two took part in a keynote panel discussion at Pollstar Live! Thursday.
LOS ANGELES — Steve Ballmer couldn’t contain his passion and the attendees at Pollstar Live! ate it up as he described the $2 billion Intuit Dome that will become his NBA Los Angeles Clippers home after it opens with its first shows in August.
The animated former Microsoft chairman spoke fervently about his vision for the Intuit Dome, designed first and foremost with basketball action and basketball fans in mind.
Ballmer is developing the 18,000-seat arena in Inglewood, not far from SoFi Stadium and the Kia Forum, which he also owns. Under the astute questioning of Pearl Jam bassist and hardcore basketball fan Jeff Ament, he described how the new arena will be a fan-centric revolution when the place opens for basketball in the fall.
“We decided we needed our own building,” the former Microsoft chairman said of the Clippers, which he bought in a forced sale from Donald Sterling. “We didn’t do a big market survey. We didn’t say, ‘Ooh, this area requires a new building. Let’s face it, we’re not the number one sports team playing in Crypto.com. It was quite clear that living in the shadow of anybody else wasn’t going to work because we wanted to be the preeminent team in the preeminent market in the world. So, we needed our own house.”
He said he and his team wanted to make the building “the zenith of basketball.”
When Ament mentioned that the Forum is one of Pearl Jam’s favorite arenas, and then asked how Intuit Dome would stand up to the venerable venue, Ballmer spoke of extensive acoustic modeling and recruited experts in the field to design a system that would not leave fans wanting.
“Now, we also have a lot of advantages,” Ballmer said. “We have nice suites. We have a very intimate bowl and will feel good, I think, at least from the fans’ perspective, and we’ve got all the toilets in the world.” So far, Super Bowl halftime artist Usher, with four shows announced at Intuit Dome in September, is the only announced concerts.
As for toilets, Ballmer said the arena has the ability to configure the number of men’s vs. women’s restrooms depending on need for a particular event. Boxing match? More male restrooms. A concert by a popular singer popular with women? The dome has it covered, Ballmer said.
Ament asked if Ballmer has had concert or sports experiences that influenced his vision for the Intuit Dome.
“Let me start with basketball,” he said. ”I love music, but we built this place about basketball and there’s tons of things that influenced my thinking. I want energy. I want tightness.” That includes the 51-row “The Wall,” a 300-seat section on one end of the court designed with rowdy home fans in mind, set to a steep incline to distract opposing players and produce an intimidating environment.
He also wants people to be able to grab a drink or food and get back their seats without missing much live action or more than a single song, which he said was a problem at the old KeyArena in Seattle before the SuperSonics left town.
“People want to be at their seats,” he said. “We put power into every seat, so you can charge your phone so people aren’t getting skitzy about that during the concert.”
The oculus-style videoboard was inspired by SoFi and Mercedes-Benz stadiums and the intimate, steeply raked “The Wall” fan section was inspired by Viejas Arena, Clippers star Kawhi Leonard’s college, although with added leg room for compared to the college court. Ballmer said he attended a ceremony there when Leonard’s jersey was retired and came away impressed.
He also said he is investing majorly in the Inglewood, California, community where the Intuit Dome is situated, noting that the team will be one of the top two or three taxpayers in the city.
“We committed $100 million to what’s called a community benefits agreement to do affordable housing, senior center, youth programs,” he said.
Ballmer said the artist and player amenities will be top notch, giving shout-outs to Becky Colwell and Geni Lincoln operating the arenas, and when an audience member who identified as a Clippers fan asked if he envisioned a championship in the next few years, Ballmer said he has high hopes for this year.
“We are a very good team, but you’re only a very good team if you continue to be consistent about that. The hard work, energy, it’s just got to keep coming and coming,” he said. “You’ve got to get good luck. You’ve got to stay healthy. We know that as well as anybody given our health record. But this is a year to be blessed to be seriously able to say, you know, we’re gonna stand there and the last game of basketball played this year, in 2024, we could do that. We can do that.”