Despite James Dolan and Madison Square Garden making things “awkward” with their lawsuits, Steve Ballmer is confident his Clippers arena will open in five years and he even sold the idea to Kawhi Leonard in his free agency pitch.
“We won’t go into the details of any of the legal things, but we feel good that we will be able to build our building," Ballmer told ESPN. “Litigation is never a good thing. Madison Square Garden is certainly going to oppose in every way they can. They will continue to oppose us in a variety of different ways, and yet we feel confident that we will be able to get our building built by 2024, which is when our lease ends at Staples Center.”
Ballmer, whose project is being vigorously contested by Dolan in court, unveiled Thursday the renderings of his proposed arena and practice facility in Inglewood, California. It’s an entirely privately-funded production from the Microsoft mogul, but Dolan’s company has tried to block it with claims that Inglewood unlawfully gave the land to Ballmer. Not coincidentally, Dolan and MSG own a concert venue — the Forum — less than a mile from the proposed site of the new Clippers arena.
Dolan also tried to influence Inglewood’s mayoral election to block the arena, but his preferred candidate was soundly defeated in November.
"It's about protecting the Forum," Ballmer told ESPN. "They don't want another concert competitor. ... I understand that interest. What I don't understand is a litigious approach to that. I don't understand that. We had the same issue at Microsoft. There are people who had a problem. OK, work it through. But getting litigious, that makes everything awkward."
As the Daily News reported, Dolan testified in a November deposition that commissioner Adam Silver tried to intervene and propose a compromise between the team owners. Dolan also rejected Silver’s compromise to have the Forum receive a fee for concerts booked at the new Clippers arena.
“A proposal made to us on this basis would not be acceptable in terms of the problem we have with the new Clippers arena,” Dolan testified.
Still, Ballmer remains enthusiastic about the project and understandably about the Clippers after they signed Leonard.
Since Ballmer is from Seattle and there are persistent rumors about relocating an NBA franchise to the Northwest city, he used the new arena as evidence about his commitment to the L.A. area.
"I don't want to say it was a major milestone in the meeting (with Leonard), but we did share because it is another statement that we are really committed," Ballmer told ESPN. "I don't know how it's humanly possible, but I still occasionally get a question about it: Will your team move to Seattle? We are building our billion-dollar-plus house here in Inglewood, California."
Dolan and his business partner, Irving Azoff, have approached the Lakers about relocating from the Staples Center to the Forum (the Lakers played there until 1999). In one email exchange — which was logged as evidence in a lawsuit and obtained by the L.A. Times — Azoff, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and Lakers executive Linda Rambis mocked the Clippers and referred to their owner as “Ballz.”
Ballmer seemed to take it in stride and thought his nickname should be “Balls.”
“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.”
Dolan, meanwhile, was in the news for other reasons Friday. A piece on Bloomberg detailed how he rejected an interview request by having security remove the reporter from a venue he doesn’t own, The Paramount in Huntington, Long Island.
Dolan was at the small music theater to perform with his blues band but, according to the report, was so upset about the interview request he shut the reporter’s notebook and summoned security. The reporter, Polly Mosendz, said she bought a ticket to the public show.