With all due respect to the Los Angeles Clippers, LA is and has always been a Lakers town. The Purple and Gold have 17 championship banners hanging from the Staples Center rafters. Meanwhile, the Clippers just came off of their first Western Conference Finals appearance, a six-game loss to the Phoenix Suns.
However, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is out to change LA’s allegiances. The eccentric billionaire has poured time and money into making his franchise equal to their big brothers in town. And now, Ballmer is calling out Lakers fans in a way that should add a little extra juice into the Hollywood rivalry.
Steve Ballmer has helped the Los Angeles Clippers become title contenders
Ballmer, who rose to fame as Microsoft’s CEO, purchased the Clippers in 2014 for $2 billion. It was the third time he submitted an ownership bid for an NBA team, previously attempting to purchase the Seattle SuperSonics in 2008 and Sacramento Kings in 2013. But after the 33-year Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned from the NBA for life following racist remarks, the window opened for Ballmer.
With new ownership and stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin leading the way, LA advanced to the playoffs in each of the next three seasons. The franchise then began to rebuild, trading away both Paul and Griffin less than a year apart. But in the summer of 2019, Ballmer and the Clippers shocked the basketball world when they acquired both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
With the two new superstars, the Clippers finished 49-23 in 2019-20. But their title hopes were dashed after blowing a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference Semifinals to the Denver Nuggets. They finished a similar 47-25 last season but fell to the Suns, as Leonard missed the series with a partial ACL tear.
With no first-round picks until 2027, Ballmer has the Clippers in full “win now” mode. And he plans to showcase his contending team in a brand new arena in Inglewood, set to open in 2024.
Ballmer threw shade at Los Angeles Lakers fans
Last season, the Clippers advanced to the conference finals while the Lakers fell in the first round. But the city of Los Angeles didn’t exactly trade in their purple and gold colors for red and blue.
“Why did so many in the town cheer against us?” Ballmer asked in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “At some points, it gets like this. … For a long time the Clippers were nothing, so nobody had to pay attention, and for people who had been Lakers fans forever, there’s no threat.”
Now that the Clippers are something, Ballmer wants to know why Laker Nation has an inherent dislike of his team (h/t: LA Times).
“I have been surprised by animus from Lakers fans, and my message has sort of been, why, you don’t have enough confidence in your guys? There are 29 other teams you have to beat to win a championship, but you must be pretty worried about us. The Lakers are a great organization, a great franchise, but Laker fans, you must be a little worried about us.”Steve Ballmer
Ballmer continued on, saying that regardless of what people may think, the Clippers today are not the Clippers of old.
“Well, we’ve gotten pretty good,” Ballmer said. “We’re actually serious, you can see we’re serious. We’re not the old screwed-up franchise in town, we’re getting our act together, and I think because we’re getting our act together, it gets people like, ‘C’mon, you can’t get your act together, it’s just my team, my team is the only one that matters!’ No, we’re coming. We’re coming.”
Will the Clippers ever be equals with the Lakers?
Historically, the Clippers will never rival the Lakers’ decades of success and the numerous Hall of Famers to wear their uniform. If the Clips couldn’t supplant the Lakers in LA when the Purple and Gold were in their worst five-year stretch in franchise history, they never will. But Steve Ballmer and Los Angeles’ other team are also closer than they’ve ever been.
Ballmer has proven his willingness to add stars like Leonard and George. He’s building a state-of-the-art arena that will become their own home and no one else’s. And his overall commitment to the Clippers has been noticed by the league. So much so, the billionaire was voted as the league’s top owner in a survey on The Athletic in December 2020.
“I would say Ballmer is No. 1,” said one scout from the survey. “His enthusiasm, his willingness to spend money, what he’s done with the Clippers, forging into LA, creating their own identity, and building their own building now, that’s bad news.”
“He’s given the Clippers every resource they need,” another scout said. “He lets his people do their jobs.”
“We’re going to provide some competition,” Ballmer said. I don’t mean for fandom in the city, I mean we’re going to be real competition in this league. It’s not like the Clippers for the first whatever number of years where you can just write them off at the beginning of the season. We’re going to be a serious competitor and people aren’t used to that.”
If the Clippers win a championship, perhaps Laker fans will show them some respect. But until then, expect the rivalry to continue.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.