Pure ‘Intuit’ion: The Clippers’ Upcoming Home Will be the Future of Inglewood Basketball

(Photo Courtesy of the LA Clippers)
Share via

Inglewood and landmark sports venues: Name a better duo. Whether your mind tracks back to the Fabulous Forum, where the NBA’s “Showtime” Lakers won what feels like countless championships; the “Miracle on Manchester” NHL Kings in the same venue; or the latest, greatest sports arena in the country (if not the world): the NFL’s SoFi Stadium (preordained as the mecca of American sports by hosting this year’s Super Bowl, the NCAA Championship Bowl Game, WrestleMania, and Summer Olympic Games events in 2028), the City of Inglewood has earned its “City of Champions” moniker and then some. Now, as almost a completist gesture, Inglewood has beckoned back the NBA in the form of the Los Angeles Clippers and their under-construction arena slated for the 2024 season: the Intuit Dome.

The opportunity for both the organization and the city is golden - Inglewood, long established as a home for entertainment and sports, fulfills its destiny by bringing back an NBA franchise after the Lakers fled to Downtown Los Angeles’ newly constructed Staples Center in 1999. And, for the L.A. Clippers, the team creates some needed distance from its “little brother” status and is establishing itself as a separate entity by landing in a community that has attracted a series of sports, entertainment, cultural, and youth-nurturing organizations.

The Clippers, who relocated from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1984, had often struggled to create an identity separate from the established, big-name/ big-results Lakers and went as far as considering relocating to Orange County. When an option to share the Staples Center venue was offered, the Clippers organization jumped at the opportunity to remain in Los Angeles.

However, there were drawbacks. Sharing a venue with a divisional rival, a hockey franchise, a WNBA team and special events throughout the year made for an unsettling feeling of never quite being at home, and the Lakers’ perennial postseason participation and championships juxtaposed with the Clippers’ struggles resulted in a depressed fan base.

The team has shown spark after spark of life in recent memory, with dynamic ownership in the form of Steve Ballmer and aggressive trading and drafting leading to a complete team that has been competitive for an NBA title for several years, reaching the conference finals in the 2021 season.

But in the face of all that success, winning in a hastily redecorated arena still had an unfulfilling feel to it. Silently, the Clippers leadership was hard at work behind-the- scenes ensuring that their fans would have a venue of their own in which to cheer. In 2016, the team began negotiations with the City of Inglewood, eventually coming to agreement with the city on a parcel of land near the existing Forum and soon-to-be SoFi Stadium that had lain fallow for years.

After a contentious battle with the former owners of the Forum over right-to-represent in bringing an NBA team back to the venue, parking fights over SoFi Stadium and other squabbles, the city and the Clippers leadership played a trump card - the ownership team bought the Forum outright, instantly negating any issue using the shrewd dealmaking that has become symbolic of Inglewood’s commitments toward the future.

Mayor James T. Butts Jr. and the Inglewood City Council negotiated with the team for the 22 acres, south of Century Boulevard and west of Prairie Avenue to house the venue, which the team leadership promised would be state of the art. But, of course, 2024 was years away, and there was already stiff competition in the state for dynamic arenas - both the Golden State Warriors and the Sacramento Kings already had new venues in the construction phase - so how would the Clippers’ home shape up?

The answer, of course, is now self-evident. The Intuit Dome, even in render and promise, is destined to be the most feature-laden, tech-advanced, next-generation venue that the NBA has seen, and will be a fitting complement to SoFi Stadium, just across the street and with a similar number of accolades. So, what does a mid-2020s NBA venue entail?

For the Fans
Architecturally, the Intuit Dome is among the most well-thought-out designs in modern sports. From each of the planned 18,000 seats, the layout offers a fan-centric experience unmatched in other NBA venues. The seating possibly takes inspiration from the Vivant Arena, home of the Utah Jazz, where the steep angles of the grandstands offer both great sight lines and an audibly roaring intimidation factor for visiting teams. Other highlights include an enormous, 44,000-square-foot oval scoreboard/video board floating over the length of the arena, reminiscent of SoFi’s instant-classic Oculus video board. In addition, there is a unique design feature in the so-named “Wall,” 51 rows of seats behind a basket that can house 4,100 inspired fans, creating a raucous soundscape that could jinx the most “ice-water-in-the-veins” free throw shooters.

Much of the input for these attendee-focused appointments come from Ballmer himself, known superfan of the Clippers whose excitement during gamedays is both infectious and legendary. Ballmer admitted to the L.A. Times in September that he’d spent more time with the architect on the design than most owners do, chiming on minutiae from how luxurious suites would specifically not include televisions, so the attendees would take in the live action, to how well-appointed the visiting team’s locker room would be. “I didn’t think I had many opinions on suites - but it turns out that I have a lot of opinions on suites,” he quipped.

Home Court Advantages
Looming large around the concept of a Clippers-only arena was the idea of a true home for the team - something they hadn’t really had since arriving in Los Angeles a generation and a half ago. And, while the front office was busy putting together a championship-caliber squad, the design and ownership groups were searching out the appropriate atmosphere and location for the fans to cheer them on.

Inglewood’s parcel presented the perfect starting point. Before 2024, the city will offer nearby mass transit in Metro’s K (Crenshaw) light rail line to complement its adjacency to the 105 and 405 freeways. By 2026, a proposed Inglewood automated people mover will bring fans directly from the rail transit to the arena. But it’s not just accessibility that made the city of 110,000 a desirable candidate for the arena. In 2019, Gillian Zucker, Clippers President of Business Operations, described the city as having “a diverse, dynamic community blessed with a skilled workforce, emerging infrastructure and a bold economic blueprint for the future.”

In action, Mayor Butts and Inglewood’s leadership have also created initiatives for employment in both construction and operation for the venue that will give local residents good-paying and lasting jobs, benefitting the city’s minority-majority population and providing economic equity in the face of the ever-rising cost hikes in housing, goods and services affecting all of L.A. County.

The venue also plans to be accessible, available and unwalled, similar to SoFi Stadium’s expansive grounds. Included in the plans is a huge outdoor wall projecting the game adjacent to a 260,000-square-foot public plaza with recreation courts for residents to enjoy.

A Master Plan
All of these features, inside and out, invoke a larger plan at work. Far beyond a tip of the hat to its past as a sports-centric city, Inglewood is opening the decade striving to create a more complete interaction with professional sports as well as an intimate interaction with both the fans of the game and the venue’s neighbors. The objective is not to simply insert a palace on vacant land, accessible to only a few and off-limits to others, but to create an inclusive space for all, while respecting the diversity that has made the city among the fastest-growing cities in America.

Add a charismatic team with big-name talent, committed ownership and a bright future, and you have a deserving partner in this, the “City of Champions.”