Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, in the midst of a legal and political battle with Madison Square Garden over his plans for a new arena in Inglewood, has reportedly come up with a new plan to eliminate his most deep-pocketed opponent: Buy the L.A. Forum from MSG, giving the arena company no reason to keep fighting his arena plans.
ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz cites this news only to “league sources,” and neither Ballmer nor MSG would comment, so it’s hard to say for sure how serious these talks are. (The Los Angeles Times had a similar story this weekend, citing “a person familiar with the talks who is not authorized to speak publicly.”) But it’s certainly a clever way to clear away opposition: Even if Ballmer had to pay a premium for the Forum, that still might be cheaper than continuing to do battle with MSG in court, especially when you consider that he’d then have future revenues from the Forum, assuming there still were any once his new arena opened.
There would still be the matter of lawsuits by local residents over such things as whether it’s legal to sell public land to Ballmer for an arena when state law requires that governments first seek developers who’ll build affordable housing to ease the state’s insane housing crunch, but without MSG around to foot the legal bills, Ballmer would have a much easier time of it. The bajillionaire would still be paying almost all of the cost of the arena, so this isn’t so much a subsidy issue — but it is a “who can afford to participate in the democratic and legal process” issue, and a worthy reminder about that thing about the grass and the elephants.