February 25, 2024

Donning a hard hat while wearing a reflective safety vest over his suit and tie, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stepped into a construction site Tuesday morning to announce a future celebration, officially unveiling the Clippers’ future arena, Intuit Dome, as the host of the league’s 2026 All-Star Game.

“They’re under such a tight schedule here that we said, ‘Can you stop the sawing for eight minutes?’” Silver said. “And they said, ‘No. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to open on time.’”

Not even Clippers owner Steve Ballmer’s signature, decibel-raising remarks could drown out the sound of sawing and heavy machinery throughout the presentation, which confirmed news that first became known late last week. Construction will continue until late July when the team moves all of its basketball and business operations, which are currently spread from Crypto.com Arena downtown to its practice facility in Playa Vista, into one, nearly $2-billion building in time for the 2024-25 NBA season.

Ballmer said he could not recall the NBA awarding an All-Star Game to an arena that was not yet finished and Silver, seated to his left underneath the steel bones of a massive, two-sided “halo” scoreboard encircling the court from above, nodded.

“We want this to be the penultimate basketball experience on the planet,” Ballmer said. “As good as it gets. The pinnacle, the peak.”

Tuesday was Silver’s first time inside the new arena, his tour led in part by Ballmer, who discussed technology that, if customers opt in, will allow the team to identify when fans are in their seats, how loud they are cheering and offer discounts “to reinforce that excellent behavior.” Behind one basket will be a section of grandstands reaching from the court to the arena’s uppermost row that Ballmer has long-dubbed a wall of sound. Last week, the team unveiled conditions that will require fans who want to sit in the section to be “certified” by the team as a Clippers fan.

“I think I’ve seen pretty much every major arena in the world at this point, 32 years in the NBA,” Silver later told a small group of reporters. “And this is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

Construction workers move about the site of the Intuit Dome, which is on a tight schedule to be completed by July.

Construction workers move about the site of the Intuit Dome, which is on a tight schedule to be completed by July.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Ballmer has called the new arena “basketball heaven,” just as Silver has used the term to describe the league’s All-Star weekend. The imagery would not have been easily imaginable 10 years earlier, when Silver, in his first major act as the league’s commissioner, banned for life the team’s previous owner, Donald Sterling, for making racist remarks in a recorded conversation. The punishment paved the way for the team to change ownership and Ballmer’s purchase in the spring of 2014.

Silver had known of Ballmer for years by then, and not only because of Ballmer’s earlier attempts to move a team to Seattle and, later, his attempt to buy the Milwaukee Bucks. Silver said he used to watch YouTube clips of Ballmer’s raucous sales meetings as a Microsoft executive.

“He’d be jumping up and down and sweating profusely and screaming at the crowd and I was sort of a cynic, I thought, this can’t be real, that this is just a show,” Silver said. “… But it’s authentic, it’s real, it’s who he is. I think you guys see the unvarnished Steve. He’s just incredibly passionate, enthusiastic about everything he does, and I think we’re seeing the results also here in this new Intuit Dome.”

Under Ballmer, the Clippers had long felt constrained by their lease at Crypto.com Arena, believing it often played at a disadvantage while receiving the least-desirable dates among its co-tenants, the Lakers and Kings. Unlike the 2018 All-Star Game hosted in Los Angeles that was jointly hosted by the Lakers and Clippers, the 2026 edition will be all Clippers, with Silver saying that nothing connected to All-Star weekend will be held at Crypto.com Arena.

“There’s been a long history of success here with the Lakers, everybody understands that, I think that Steve understands that he’s got an uphill fight, whether he’s converting Laker fans, probably he’s realistic that it’s about the next generation of fans coming around to his team,” Silver said. “But what the benefit of all these Laker fans in this community is that you have a huge interest in basketball.”

Dignitaries, including NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, center, pose for a photo during a news conference at the Intuit Dome.

Dignitaries — from left, Gillian Zucker, president business operations; Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Inglewood Mayor James Butts and L.A. Mayor Karen Bass — pose for a photo after it was announced officially that Intuit Dome would host the 2026 All-Star Game.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Silver‘s and Ballmer’s speeches were followed by remarks from Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, and Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts, who recounted the first meeting with Ballmer about an Inglewood arena in January 2016. Using an analogy that left some in the audience quizzical after the speeches had finished, Butts described watching the Lakers and Kings decamp from their home in Inglewood’s Forum for downtown Los Angeles’ Staples Center in 1999, only to see Inglewood, with So-Fi Stadium and Intuit Dome across Century Boulevard from each other, transform into a host to major future sporting events, including the 2026 FIFA World Cup and 2028 Summer Olympics, whose basketball competitions will be played at Intuit Dome.

“Welcome to the latest chapter of the Inglewood-Los Angeles version of the Hunger Games,” Butts said. “L.A. would be the capital where the citizens were all well-fed, and Inglewood would be the Panem.”

Before construction could begin on Intuit Dome, Ballmer had to first end litigation with then-Forum owner Madison Square Garden Co., whose executive chairman is James Dolan, owner of the New York Knicks, that had blocked ground-breaking for several years. Ballmer paid $400 million in cash in March 2020 to buy the Forum and resolve multiple lawsuits by MSG, and Silver confirmed he stepped in amid the legal fight.

“I did play a role in helping resolve that, and they worked it out, which is why we’re all standing here today,” Silver said.

Construction continues on the Intuit Dome, the Clippers' nearly $2-billion arena, in Inglewood.

Construction continues on the Intuit Dome, the Clippers’ nearly $2-billion arena, in Inglewood.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

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