Here’s all you need to know about the Los Angeles Clippers. The NBA team shares the Staples Center with the Lakers and NHL’s Los Angeles Kings and they have the smallest bedroom.
According to the terms of its lease, which runs through 2024, the Clippers are relegated to third string, which means they can only schedule their home games after the other two tenants are done. And you can imagine what that leaves them with.
Yes, the Clippers are to Los Angeles what the Mets are to New York, the White Sox are to Chicago and the Pirates to Pittsburgh. They are overlooked and underappreciated, clouded over by the glitz of the Yankees, Cubs and Steelers.
And the organization has developed a bit of an inferiority complex because of it. You know, never good enough, unloved. Billy Crystal and not Jack Nicholson. Too bad. So sad. Pat them on the head and send them off to bed.
But things might finally be changing. You could sense the energy rising when the Clippers held their press conference last week to announce the signing of Kawhi Leonard and acquisition of Paul George.
Clippers owner Steve Ballmer was fully caffeinated at the event held for approximately 1,000 season ticket holders. Those in attendance were treated to a show – Ballmer making like a Baller, deking and shaking and doing his best Chick Hearn play-by-play.
Of course, those who know Ballmer from the other job he held, Microsoft’s CEO, understand the kinetic energy that he has. But this seemed different. This was the underdog feeling his oats, reveling at the coming-out party he’s been waiting to throw.
“We want to continue to get the best [players] like Kawhi and Paul,” Ballmer told the crowd. “We’re putting an amazing amount of effort into getting that player experience to be stupendous.”
What Ballmer was referring to was the new building that will rise in Inglewood, the neighborhood of The Forum where Chamberlain and West, Magic and Kareem won championships for the Lakers.
“We want this to be a destination for the great players of all time,” said Ballmer.
Next to him was an artist’s depiction for the development of an arena set to open in 2024, one that will be privately financed, inclusive of corporate offices, a practice facility and 18,500 seats that will cost in excess of $1 billion.
These are heady times for the Clippers, an extension of the feel-good years when the infusion of young talent and a veteran coach, Doc Rivers, has led helped them surpass the struggling Lakers.
While the Lakers have faltered, the Clippers have been sailing, playing above .500 ball the last eight seasons, making the playoffs in every year but 2017-18 when they were 42-40.
In 2018-19, they were 11 games better (48-34), good enough for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
Ballmer is loving every minute of it, rejoicing in the turn-of-events for the franchise he paid $2 million for in 2014.
“This building is going to be the number one basketball venue in the world,” said Ballmer. “We deserve to have a house of our own. A new house. A permanent house. Our house.”
As you might conclude, the Lakers and Clippers do not care for each other. Their relationship was described as a series of sibling squabbles. Imagine playing in the same league and same division as the Lakers and being made to feel like a second-class citizen, bullied about by your brother.
Rivers became coach in 2013 and that was the first serious counter punch. So emboldened were the Clippers that their marketing staff decided to cover up the Lakers championship banners with their own signs on the day of games.
“You have an opportunity to write your own story, to build something,” Clippers president Lawrence Frank told the Washington Post. “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].”
Ballmer mentioned that the building will open in 2024 – after the team has won a couple of championships.
And that is what’s made the signing of Leonard and acquisition of George so consequential for the Clippers. In the wake of the signing of Lebron James and acquisition of Anthony Davis, the Clippers have their own star power to line up next to Tobias Harris and Lou Williams and stare the Lakers down.
Oh, and the gossip is juicy, too. Have you heard about the simmering feud between Ballmer and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss?
In a series of leaked emails between Buss and team executives, published in March by the Los Angeles Times, Buss and her crew is heard mocking the Clippers decision to build in Inglewood. Buss has given Ballmer a nickname – “Ballz.”
Not only are the Lakers opposed to the construction, but Knicks owner James Dolan is, as well. His company also owns The Forum, which is now primarily a concert venue. And he is suing the city of Inglewood to stop the plans.
On the day the plans to build the arena were announced, Ballmer was asked about the moniker the Lakers have slapped on him.
“That email thing was weird,” Ballmer told ESPN. “Let me just say it was weird. I don’t know what they were trying to do precisely.
“First I’ll just say, Jeanie was very nice. She followed up apologetically about that. Actually, my initial reaction was they misspelled it — with a ‘z.’ My initial reaction was, ‘z?!?!’ With my last name, I won’t say I haven’t been called that before in my life. It is not the first time I have heard that.”
If Ballmer has his way, the Lakers and the NBA will be hearing a lot of about the Clippers over the next decade. And it will be about time.