'Our own identity': Los Angeles Clippers break ground on new arena in Inglewood
INGLEWOOD, Calif. - For Clipper Nation and fans of the Los Angeles Lakers, the day each franchise can have its own arena can’t come soon enough. LA’s two NBA teams aren’t necessarily rivals on the court, especially since they have yet to meet in the playoffs, but for many Clipper fans, they look forward to seeing their team shine outside of a purple and gold shadow.
(Los Angeles Clippers)
A New Era, A New Arena
The Clippers hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for their new arena in Inglewood Friday that’s scheduled to open by the 2024-25 NBA season. In many ways, the groundbreaking symbolizes a few things: A growing fanbase and a new era, as well as a changing community. The new arena will open near the new SoFi Stadium, home of the LA Rams and LA Chargers.
"The Clippers having their own arena is going to finish the rebrand, but they’re going to have their own identity finally. We always hear from the Laker fans saying ‘this is our house’ and they’re always whining around their banners being covered at the games that they supposedly don’t watch. Having our own home, a place to go to is going to put the icing on the cake. It's the cherry on top of this whole Steve Ballmer changing the culture of the team," said Anaheim resident Hasaan Cook.
It was announced Friday the $1.8 billion, privately-funded arena will be called the Intuit Dome and has the capacity to fit 18,000 fans.
"An arena should be an experience," Clippers owner Steve Ballmer said during Friday's groundbreaking ceremony. He also shared that while the Clippers played inside the NBA Bubble during the 2020 playoffs, he spoke with Paul George about the value of fans and how that was considered in designing the new stadium.
The arena's name is part of the Clippers’ 23-year partnership with Intuit, a financial software giant which makes TurboTax, Credit Karma and Mint. Overall, officials said the partnership aims to deliver economic benefits for the local community.
Inglewood Mayor James Butts said the arena will be "the most magnificent arena on Planet Earth."
Intuit is committed to expanding Intuit’s Prosperity Hub School District program, providing taxpayer assistance events, and will host educational events for local entrepreneurs and small business owners.
The Intuit Dome, which was designed to create an intimate and intense fan experience includes:
- "The Wall": 51 rows of uninterrupted seats
- A two-sided halo scoreboard with an acre of LED lighting
- An 80,000 square foot outdoor plaza surrounding a full-size outdoor basketball court
- Courtside cabanas
- Backstage bungalows
- Halo suites
Innovative technology will be used throughout the arena to allow for "frictionless concession stands."
Not only are fans expected to spend less time waiting in line for food, but Ballmer is making sure fans will spend less time waiting to use the restroom so they are able to get back in their seats to give their support to the Clippers, especially in the fourth quarter. To specify, the arena will have 27 people per bathroom fixture, he said.
Ballmer said he has spent years going to different stadiums and arenas around the nation for inspiration, including Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium and even San Diego State's Viejas Arena, which he attending for Leonard's jersey retirement ceremony. He also said he was inspired by high school games and that every single high school basketball program in California will be represented at the arena.
"I usually don't get this excited in the month of September," he said with opening night just over one month away. However, he was "here for the tip-off of this building."
The Clippers are coming off an incredible season, having reached the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Plagued by injuries and a grueling playoff schedule, the team came just shy of reaching their first NBA Finals series. Still, the team will continue to build on last year’s momentum and their fans will be right there with them every step of the way.
For fans of the LA Clippers, a new arena is crucial for the less celebrated NBA team in Los Angeles to have its own identity.
From Playa del Rey to Moreno Valley, Clipper fans love their team and enjoy rooting for the underdog. Here at some of their stories.
Clipper Nation Love in the Inland Empire
Rancho Cucamonga resident Deanna Wilson said her passion for NBA basketball sparked when she was about 10 years old.
"Growing up in the house, we were always Clipper fans," she said. "I do remember the tail end of Danny Manning. Pretty much when I started watching a lot is with the core including Elton Brand and Corey Maggette."
For over 20 years, she’s watched the team’s highs and lows and she believes the Clippers have done enough to separate themselves, have their own headlining superstars, and are worthy of their own arena.
"I get tired of hearing the ‘little stepbrothers’ or the ‘team in the basement.’ The way our franchise has been going these past few years we’re definitely more than that. We have a team of winners. We have a team of individuals that have made names for themselves," she said.
Free agency season in 2019 was one of her favorite moments as a fan. She remembers the exact night it was announced Riverside County’s own Kawhi Leonard would be joining her favorite team. She woke up in the middle of the night and got the call from her friend who happens to be a Lakers fan.
"I looked at my phone and I was like 'Oh my god. Finally! It’s true.’ I ran through the house and I was telling everybody," she recalled.
Although it was predicted Leonard would join Anthony Davis and LeBron James, she knew that was not the move someone like him would make.
"A lot of people thought Kawhi was going to the Lakers. I never thought that. I already knew he was going to come to the Clippers when he said he wanted to come home," Wilson said.
When LA traffic is at its worse, it can take her up to two hours to get to Staples Center. Once the Clippers move to Inglewood, her commute will be even longer. As a diehard and longtime fan, she plans to make it work to attend the games.
"For me, it’ll definitely be worth it. Planning around it is something I’m going to have to think about in terms of traveling with traffic as well as parking too," she said. "It’s definitely exciting just knowing that Clippers will have their own building specifically tailored for our team which is going to be great."
Mark Genato also lives in the Inland Empire.
How much does he love the Clippers? Well, enough to have a tattoo showcasing his favorite team.
He started watching the Clippers when they played at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena and even though they wouldn’t always win, he felt like watching the Clips was more valuable of his time than "that other team."
"They may not win but they’re going to leave it all on the floor and I admired that," he said.
Leonard being one of the biggest names in the NBA is a huge deal for I.E. residents.
Genato currently lives in Kawhi’s hometown of Moreno Valley, or simply "MoVal."
"I actually used to watch him play when he was in middle school. He would play against my cousin. I would go watch my cousin play and it just so happens he played against Kawhi," he said. "I never thought he would be who he is today."
While Leonard lives a private life without any active social media accounts, his philanthropic efforts don’t go unnoticed by those who are paying attention.
"For him to come back home, for him to want to be on the Clippers, for him building courts, going back to his old elementary school donating backpacks…it’s awesome for him to be coming back," Genato added.
Representing Clipper Nation in Orange County
Just like fans who commute from the Inland Empire, getting to Staples Center is no easy trek for those coming from Orange County.
Jon Lee lives in Yorba Linda and said during the week, it can take him up to two hours to get to downtown Los Angeles.
When Lee was about 8 years old, he started attending home games with his dad. "They were like $20 seats in the nosebleed section and the team was good. It was Sam Cassell, Cuttino Mobley, Corey Maggette, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, all those guys," he said.
Lee has stayed loyal to the franchise and one of the greatest moments was being inside Staples Center when the Clippers beat the Utah Jazz, finally breaking the second-round curse.
"I think the way that it happened was somewhat surreal," he said, "I think it was also special because we’re coming off a pandemic. I think that was the first game at full capacity…it’s like they waited for everyone to get in so you could see it happen and I think that was also special because I think in the long run, people are going to look at the Clippers differently."
Though the team has made strides, he has grown used to the Clips not getting the recognition they deserve.
"The thing is, it’s not even just a Lakers town. It’s like a Lakers country and Lakers media. It’s kind of something I’m used to," he explained.
After all, Staples Center is known as the "House that Kobe Built."
"They never got to feel like they were at home in Staples…it’s because of how good the Lakers were there. They won five championships, they built a dynasty there and even before Doc [Rivers] got there, they were still showing the Lakers jerseys, the banners and all that. It’s kind of hard to be another basketball team in there where there are NBA banners that aren’t yours. You’re in downtown LA where Kobe [Bryant] cemented his legacy. Shaq [O'Neal] was there," Lee said. When it comes to the new stadium, "I think it’s going to be a big wave of just a positive path for the franchise in general."
The pride of being a Clipper fan is being felt across Southern California.
Anaheim resident Hasaan Cook remembers wearing a Clippers jersey to the Orange County Fair right after the playoffs and how well received it was.
"It lights a fire being a part of Clipper Nation and seeing it grow," he said.
If you’ve been to a Clippers game recently, you’ve likely noticed Spencer Wianecki in his attire dedicated to honoring Nicolas Batum, who is French. For fans, it's the "Batum Battalion."
Wianecki said the Clippers' journey as a team nearly parallels with what Batum has experienced in the NBA.
"They’ve had similar trajectories over the last several years. He was a big deal in Portland when the Clippers had Lob City going and both of the teams were never able to quite put it all together. Right when Lob City fell apart he went to Charlotte and the injuries derailed him and he could never put it together there and obviously, the Clippers had that big Bubble collapse. Both [the team and Batum as a player] were looking for an identity. He was just perfect for the team," he said.
Commuting from Santa Ana to downtown Los Angeles for games is no easy task, but he says it doesn’t bother him and he looks forward to the Clippers having their own home.
"I think Steve Ballmer is really trying to create an amazing fan experience and a hometown advantage that we’ve never seen from Clippers games because you have those Lakers fans cheering for the other team," he said.
Even as players come and go, his loyalty is here to stay. Just this week, Wianecki got a tattoo dedicated to his team following the hype of the 2021 postseason.
"I felt like I had to do it. And then I had my wife design a bunch of tattoos and I was really annoying. I had a million notes until it finally came together," he said.
For the Love of the Game and the Clippers
"Growing up it was always Michael Jordan is a great player, Bulls are a great team, the Lakers were pretty good too, but ‘we like the Clippers in this house’," Dwayne Logan, Jr. recalls about his childhood.
His father is from San Diego "so we’ve just been fans ever since so on top of that, it’s the underdog thing. That’s just the appeal," he said.
The LA Clippers were first the Buffalo Braves before the team relocated to San Diego where the team was renamed.
As a Southern California native, he also enjoyed watching the John R. Wooden Classic between the University of Southern California and USC through the years.
At a certain point, "a stadium gets woven into a team’s DNA," he said. Therefore, he knows firsthand how Staples Center doesn’t quite feel like home.
"For a long time, we’ve been guests in our own home. To finally get that space on our own is just going to be incredible," he said.
It may not be for another three years, but he’s witnessed how the culture of the team has evolved recently.
Many fans credit Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell for changing the culture. The three may no longer be on the Clippers roster, but to fans, they will forever remain an integral part of Clipper Nation.
"It’s just great for us to really make those strides and I think that that’s the best part of being a sports fan. Being invested in every decision that they make, hoping for the best, making decisions on your own…and it’s just great to see a homegrown thing rather than just being a magnet for superstars or guys that just want to jump on and be a part of the success," he said.
He's seen a lot of changes through the years but with progress, he believes rumors about the team moving to Seattle or Las Vegas should be put to rest.
"That’s absolutely not going to happen. It feels absolutely good to be able to shut people up in that way," adding that all the changes mean "we’re on the right path."
(Karen Ducey/LA Times)
Darian Vaziri is a Los Angeles native who studies the game of basketball at every chance he gets. As a student of the game and as a former high school point guard, he took that passion and curiosity and poured it into his platform "Dime Dropper," a podcast that focuses on modern basketball with a historic twist.
He’s been a Clippers fan since he was a little boy and has the pictures to prove it.
"I’ve always been the guy that likes to go with the road less traveled by what people are not all over and to me, I guess being that underdog and not what everybody does made me resonate with the Clippers," Vaziri said.
It may be three seasons away, but better days for the Clippers are on the horizon. Once the Canoes have their own home, Vaziri believes it could lead to better scheduling and more support during the playoffs.
"I think that it gives us our own identity in ways to have your own stadium. You don’t have to share. For example, one thing a lot of Clipper fans don’t like is that we’ve always been the second fiddle in terms of Sunday afternoons, 12:30 start while the Lakers get the 6:30 game. We know why it’s a thing but it’s definitely become a problem. Sometimes you see the team perform a little bit worse for those 12:30 games. I guess it’s just nice to establish something of our own and also to, I really mean this when I say this, have less Laker fan infiltration at our games," Vaziri said.
Clippers Executive and NBA legend Jerry West also noted the Clippers having to share an arena with three other professional sports teams (Lakers, Kings, Sparks) has led to them having the worst schedule "every year" in the NBA.
Inglewood: With Growth Comes Change
Darlene Draper grew up in Inglewood and looks forward to the Clippers playing in her backyard. She also noted that she loves watching her community flourish.
Even for people who have never been to Inglewood, they have likely heard of it, especially after Dr. Dre let the world know "Inglewood always up to no good."
With growth comes change and Draper said she’s embracing those changes.
"It’s becoming a place people aren’t scared of. We didn’t have the best reputation out there but it’s becoming a destination place where people want to live," she said.
She also admits Inglewood residents are adjusting to what Sundays look like in the city now that fans can attend games at the new SoFi Stadium at full capacity.
"You have to plan your whole Sunday around the fact that the Rams or the Chargers are playing. I also have Rams season tickets so you just have to do a lot of planning. If you are casually thinking that you’re going to go to the market and you live around there, you have to go shopping on Saturday or Monday because you are not getting around easily," she said.
Fans also hope the Clippers will be active in the Inglewood community.
"It’s going to have an effect on the surrounding areas and people are going to get pushed out and that’s what people need to start paying attention to," Logan said.
In November 2019, activists aimed to put a stop to the proposed construction and believed the land should have gone to providing more affordable housing.
At the time, Inglewood resident Kish Lewis told reporters her rent increased by $1,000 when it was time to renew her lease.
The Inglewood City Council gave its final approval for the new arena in September 2020.
- Inglewood Coalition, City, make pitches to judge over proposed arena
- Inglewood City Council gives final approval for future home of Los Angeles Clippers
"The footprint is kind of changing and the Clippers have a big opportunity to make an impact on the area and the people that are coming up for the next couple years. I hope they’re looking further down the line with these changes…I have a lot of faith in what they’re going to do for the rest of my life as a Clipper fan," Logan added.
"I think with any developments in areas that tend to be lower-income, there has to be a discussion about the ramifications of what that development means for those who live in those areas," said fan Joseph Raya-Ward. "In reality, rents go up, landlords push tenants out to grab the new money, and the people who benefit from the "investment" aren't actually from the "community." If you look at a place like Highland Park here in LA, a vibrant neighborhood with its own character, it was slowly taken over by a new group of people. The longtime residents of Highland Park left. And it was not just residents, it was businesses. The new Highland Park benefited those that took over while the community left. We can already see what SoFi has done to the cost of living in Inglewood and how that drives out current residents. The Clipper arena will do more of the same. And, as fans, no matter how much you want the arena for basketball reasons, looking at the process for how the arena got fast-tracked, and what the arena is going to do to the current residents of Inglewood can't give you a good feeling."
With Friday's announcement of a partnership with Intuit, it appears the franchise and the company want to bring economic benefits to the area.
Ballmer said at the groundbreaking $100 million will go toward a community fund and that $80 million of those dedicated funds will go toward affordable housing.
"Sports, in general, can have a very positive impact on the young people today and I think the Clippers being a part of the community with the food drives and stuff I like that. I think it’s really important to show how much the Clippers care about the community and to give back as well. I think that’s why the bond with Clipper fans is so tight with the Clippers in general," said Glendale resident and Clippers fan, Robert Yamagata. "I think starting those relationships at a young age can really impact a young kid who wants to get an opportunity to play."
As more people continue to move in and out of Los Angeles, the Clippers are also appealing to those newer to the area.
Charmii Lee grew up a basketball fan in New Jersey, but never quite connected with the Nets. Even with a roster that includes Kevin Durant and James Harden, she’s staying loyal to the Clippers. Lee said she became a fan when she moved to the Los Angeles area about six years ago.
She said all of her friends were Lakers fans, except one who introduced her to the Clippers near the end of the Lob City Era.
"As I was learning about the Clippers, watching them play, learning about the players and learning about the Clippers culture, I was drawn to their culture of being very scrappy, very raw. They grind hard," she said. "I think the reason I felt this connection is because with all the negativity, with all the doubt, the Clippers never gave up."
It’s a mentality she said she connects to and channels in her professional life.
"They never gave in and being a woman in the tech industry, that was the mentality I had to embrace and for me, it felt very personal. It gave me faith because if they’re going at this and everyone’s just bashing them. People in their own city are bashing them. But they don’t give up," she said.
The fandom goes beyond Los Angeles.
There’s a lot of basketball to be excited for New Yorkers, but one man is sticking with the Clips. Why? "Loyalty," he said.
"I am still with my middle school girlfriend, so yeah, once we tie the knot, I will be able to say we were middle school sweethearts. That being said, there's also no fun in sports when you just jump onto the best team. I never understood bandwagon fans, how do you even get a sense of satisfaction when the team you're backing succeeds? Next season you will just be on another. I stayed true to the team that won my heart, I am not going anywhere," New York resident Sanjiv Singh explained.
Clipper Nation: ‘We’re like a family’
The brotherhood witnessed on the court is often echoed through the fans.
"It’s like a family," Draper said about Clipper Nation.
"The diehard Clipper community is very small and it’s awesome to really be a part of that fanbase," Genato added.
Though small, the force is mighty.
"There’s no one like us. We are a small fanbase. It’s kind of a mom-and pop-thing. Like, the best Mexican restaurants aren’t like Chipotle or Javier’s, it’s a hole-in-the-wall. It’s really close-knit. I feel like Clipper fans are really humble just because we haven’t seen too much winning so I also feel like we’re more subjective about basketball," Jon Lee said. He also noted he wears Clippers gear on a nearly daily basis.
Over Labor Day weekend, dozens of fully vaccinated Clipper fans got together for a BBQ, showing for some it’s not just about cheering for a team, but it is truly a lifestyle.
"We really just wanted to get a bunch of Clippers fans together before the season started. We haven’t seen each other since Game 6 of the playoffs. We made sure everyone that attended was vaccinated because safety was a top priority," said Ricky Chu who helped organize the event." The Clipper Nation love runs deep. We had people come from Hollywood, Glendale, Torrance, Pasadena, Rancho, and even one drove in from Vegas."
Looking ahead to next season
The Clippers have three seasons ahead of them before they can move into their new home. The team made some roster changes after its historic season, notably trading defensive mastermind, Patrick Beverley in a deal that sent Eric Bledsoe back to Los Angeles.
"It is hard to know. There are so many things up in the air. My expectation is that it’s just going to be a lot of fun. We’re all kind of riding that big wave of making the Western Conference Finals for the first time and now we’re going back to being slept on which is where the Clippers thrive. We don’t like to have the attention all focused on us so I think we’re just going to have a lot of fun. I think the fans are really going to appreciate all the guys and I think we’re going to appreciate every win," Wianecki said.
Though the season may present its challenges, Clipper Nation is confident the team will return to the playoffs. For Vaziri, he hopes to see more Clipper fans rally around the team and show up in the stands.
"I know [playoff tickets] are obviously a little more expensive, but relative to other teams, we're on the less expensive side. Keep Laker fans or neutrals out of the seats as much as possible. Get Clipper Nation as much of the percentage as we can in the Staples Center before we move into the new stadium. And even when we do move, go to playoff games because the guys need us. And, you know, I hate one thing. I cannot stand it. Seeing tweets about the Clippers crowd not being good enough, I can't stand it. So, I want to put an end to this during the playoffs."