Ballmer went all out for this groundbreaking ceremony for his Intuit Dome and looked to spare little to no expense. There was a drumline, live musical performances; the event was bright and shiny, all of which reflect the personality of Ballmer. The reactions of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George didn’t express that same personality, but most fans should be used to a lack of enthusiasm from Leonard. This doesn’t mean he wasn’t moving and grooving in his mind. You know Leonard isn’t programmed to show spirit or emotion.
Everyone in the building looked to be rocking out, minus Leonard and George. Ballmer can throw a big bash like this as often as he likes, and it still won’t change the fact that the Clippers will continue to play little brother to the Lakers in southern California. Moving 25 minutes outside of Los Angeles isn’t changing that.
I don’t blame Ballmer for wanting his own arena. I’ve never been a fan of two teams in the same sport sharing a home venue. One team will always get the short end of the stick, especially when it comes to fan base. But in southern California, that fan pool is shallow in many ways. I’d say 9 out of 10 people in LA would identify as Lakers fans. I grew up in California and personally knew two Clippers fans. There really aren’t too many out there who don’t just root for whichever team in LA is having a better season. Traditionally this has always been the Lakers, obviously.
This will be the struggle for Ballmer and his Clippers, whether they’re in Inglewood or downtown Los Angeles: cultivating and establishing an organic and loyal fan base. They have their two stars in place for at least the next few years, but they’ll have to continue to get better consistently. The Clippers’ first Conference Finals appearance last season is a good start. But they can’t go backward. There are too many other entertainment attractions in southern California for teams to struggle regularly. Look at the Lakers whenever they’ve had down years — people living in and around the city come up with other stuff to do when the basketball product isn’t any good. With the Clippers already 17 championships behind the city’s other franchise, for the sake of attendance, they cannot afford to suffer any prolonged slumps once they move to the Intuit Dome. The few true fans they have won’t stick around long enough for a rebuild, let alone the casual crowd.
Leonard’s face during the groundbreaking live performance truly encapsulates what the Clippers are up against. Ballmer is prepared to throw tons of money at this venture, making use of his far-reaching resources, and still, none of it matters. The Lakers and their fans sat back watching and probably chuckled heartily at the theatrics of the whole event.
The Clippers can win the next three championships and will still have an uphill battle gaining fans of their own that have no emotional tie to the Lakers. Luckily for the Clippers, Ballmer seems fully invested and in it for the long haul. We know he’s willing to field a competitive team, as we’ve seen already, but it’ll take a lot more than being competitive to catch the Lakers in popularity.