LOS ANGELES -- LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is in advanced negotiations to purchase The Forum in Inglewood, California, from the Madison Square Garden Company, an acquisition that would clear a major hurdle in the Clippers' efforts to construct a new home arena in the vicinity, according to league sources.
The Clippers would neither confirm nor deny the report but issued the following statement to ESPN: "The Clippers continue to pursue plans to build a state-of-the-art, 18,000-seat basketball arena and entertainment complex in Inglewood and are currently working with the city to successfully complete the comprehensive Environmental Impact Report.
"We are examining every possible way to resolve our differences with Madison Square Garden Co. regarding our new arena."
MSG declined to comment for the story.
The current owner of The Forum, MSG, which also owns the New York Knicks, has been locked in a protracted legal battle with the city of Inglewood and Ballmer for the better part of two years over Ballmer's parcel, which sits a mile from The Forum.
MSG, whose executive chairman and chief executive officer is embattled Knicks governor James L. Dolan, alleged that the city violated an agreement not to promote competition to The Forum by working with the Clippers to develop an arena nearby. MSG also claimed the city deceived MSG by convincing it to cede land near The Forum for a technology park that was ultimately sold to Ballmer, in what MSG characterized as a back-room deal. Murphy's Bowl LLC, the entity owned by Ballmer to advance the Clippers project, intervened in the proceedings to represent the Clippers' interests in their arena project.
After MSG filed another suit in January, this one against California governor Gavin Newsom and California's Joint Legislative Budget Committee over legislation that accelerates the approval of development projects, Chris Meany, the lead developer of the Clippers project, responded in a statement: "Today's filing of yet another meritless lawsuit by the Madison Square Garden Co. is the latest desperate attempt in an all-out legal onslaught to slow the development of the proposed Clippers arena in Inglewood."
There are three active suits in the battle, including two by community groups, including IRATE (Inglewood Residents Against Takings and Evictions), an organization bankrolled in part by MSG. The Environmental Impact Report for the project was submitted by Inglewood to the court on Dec. 27, with a 30-day window for community groups and interested parties to respond with concerns, a timeline that was extended another 30 days on Feb. 10.
After the most recent torrent of lawsuits, the two sides began engaging in substantive discussions to resolve the stalemate. Sources say a potential sale of The Forum proved to be the path of least resistance for both sides, which have collectively spent tens of millions of dollars on litigation, with more actions to adjudicate. Sources say an agreement is imminent.
The Forum will continue to operate until a Clippers arena is fully constructed, and possibly beyond. The Clippers struck a deal with Inglewood in 2017 to explore the development of an arena complex on 26 acres approximately a half-mile south of a new NFL stadium being constructed for the Los Angeles Rams.
Since 1999, the Clippers have been co-tenants of Staples Center, owned and operated by Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which they share with the Los Angeles Lakers and the NHL's Los Angeles Kings. In January 2013, the Clippers agreed to a 10-year extension of their lease that would keep the team at Staples Center until June 2024.
Ballmer, who purchased the Clippers for $2 billion in 2014, has long sought to be the sole owner of a basketball complex, not an occupant in a multipurpose arena. The Clippers have long regarded themselves as a "third tenant" at Staples Center, where they receive a smaller share of proceeds from suites and club seats than the Lakers and Kings and a lesser say in scheduling.
Ballmer, the wealthiest owner in the NBA, has long maintained that a state-of-the-art arena would provide a true home-court advantage for the Clippers. It would allow the team to explore technological innovations, from expanding broadband capacity to offering fans an augmented reality experience. The Clippers would also tap additional revenue streams such as concessions, and construct offices and a training center. The team doesn't own its current practice facility in Playa Vista, California.
"The other side is just trying to slow us down a little bit," Ballmer said amid the rancor with MSG last September. "But it's another thing where we're grinders. We're long-term players, and we're grinders."