James Dolan's company threatens lawsuit over Clippers' move to Inglewood

Ball Don't Lie
Knicks owner James Dolan (left) has a rooting interest in keeping Clippers owner Steve Ballmer (right) out of Inglewood. (AP)
Knicks owner James Dolan (left) has a rooting interest in keeping Clippers owner Steve Ballmer (right) out of Inglewood. (AP)

In a roundabout way, the New York Knicks plan to sue in order to prevent the Los Angeles Clippers from moving to Inglewood, Calif., and this time Knicks owner James Dolan might actually in the right.

If you’re wondering why, here’s the long and short of it: Dolan founded the Madison Square Garden Company, which is worth roughly $9.4 billion and includes both the Knicks and The Forum in Inglewood. The city southwest of Los Angeles recently entered into an agreement with Clippers owner Steve Ballmer to negotiate the team’s move into a new arena up the street from the 17,500-seat Forum — much to the surprise of Dolan’s company, which just filed a claim against Inglewood over the deal.

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In an interview with the Daily Breeze, Marvin Putnam, serving as counsel for the MSG Co., accused Inglewood Mayor James Butts of convincing the company to relinquish its leasehold on a portion of a parking lot across the street from the NFL stadium currently under construction for the purposes of a technology park, only to enter into an agreement with the Clippers to build an arena on the property.

“The mayor made it extremely clear that he needed that piece of land back for a kind of ‘Silicon Beach,’ ” Putnam told the newspaper. “They’re attempting to flat-out trick people.”

“We believe fraud has been committed here,” added Putnam, who claims a contract between MSG and the city stipulates the land would not be used for anything that could damage The Forum’s business. MSG’s recent filing serves as a precursor to a lawsuit, and it prompted the Inglewood City Council to reconvene a meeting on Friday to decide if their previous arrangement is in breach of that contract.

“The City of Inglewood cherishes its relationship with The Madison Square Garden Company and Live Nation,” Butts said in a statement on Thursday, via the Compton Herald. “Working together, we have seen The Forum become one of the top concert venues in the country. We disagree on the City’s right to self-determination and the scope of that right. The Inglewood City Council’s first responsibility is to its residents and their quality of life while ensuring continued progress, opportunities for employment, and improved public safety.

“In the end, I believe that we will be able to come together and find an amicable resolution. In the meantime, life goes on unabated for both The Forum and the City of Inglewood.”

However, the City Council unanimously voted again to approve the negotiating deal with the Clippers — one that could involve the city enacting eminent domain to acquire more land — per according to the Los Angeles Times. Given MSG’s filing, one would think a lawsuit is inevitable now.

MSG’s lawyers also accused the city of failing to properly notify the public about both the original agreement with the Clippers and the potential use of eminent domain, according to the L.A. Times.

Mayor Butts maintained publicly that no residents would be displaced by the project, but Forum public relations representative Randy James emailed the L.A. Times on Friday to warn, “While the parcels of land that the city owns may be vacant, those vacant parcels comprise just a fraction of the total area. There is no question that residents would need to be displaced within this area.”

Ballmer has publicly stated his desire to privately fund an 20,000-seat state-of-the-art arena, which would give the Clippers top billing and might also play home to other entertainment ventures. Last month, Ballmer confirmed in a letter to fans he would pay a non-refundable $1.5 million deposit for the three-year negotiating window that would likely bring the Clips to Inglewood next decade.

“I have said from day one that we need to plan for the future. This agreement helps us do that by expanding our options,” Ballmer wrote. “The prospect of a new state-of-the-art NBA arena would allow us greater latitude to influence our game schedule. … We also want to offer our fans premium experiences in terms of technology, club spaces and other amenities; that’s easier to realize in a new arena.”

One problem: The Forum is located less than two miles from the 22-acre site on which the new arena would be built. Despite a $100 million renovation project and The Forum’s popularity as a concert venue, MSG would almost certainly lose a portion of its entertainment business to a nearby arena, even if it just meant would-be patrons choosing to attend a basketball game instead of a concert.

Oddly, the Los Angeles Lakers played in The Forum until 1999, when they joined the Clippers in moving to the Staples Center. The impetus for the Clips moving to Inglewood is Ballmer’s view that a team he paid $2 billion for is billed third or fourth at Staples behind the Lakers, Los Angeles Kings and other events. Now, owners of both The Forum and Staples Center (Anschultz Entertainment Group, which has the Clippers under lease until 2024), were both blindsided by Ballmer’s Inglewood deal.

It’s all very strange, and it only gets odder when a company owned by Dolan — an NBA owner across the country — is threatening to file a lawsuit to prevent another team from moving to a new arena.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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