James Dolan, MSG (The Forum) Waging a War on Inglewood

Attempting to Derail New Clippers Arena


Dolan testified in a deposition he knows little about the City of Inglewood that he’s suing, the contractual issues in dispute over a new Clippers arena, or the religious conservative candidate he backed with nearly $1 million to prevent the community from securing a new NBA arena

Mayor of Inglewood James T. Butts Jr. talks during an NFL football news conference in Inglewood, Calif. (Kelvin Kuo/AP)

Utilizing his bottomless wealth and familiar bully tactics, James Dolan has attempted to derail the development plans of a low-income city in California and influence its mayoral election from across the country.

But as Dolan-led MSG has pumped money into lawsuits to protect its investment in The Forum, Dolan testified in a deposition he knows little about the City of Inglewood that he’s suing, the contractual issues in dispute over a new Clippers arena, or the religious conservative candidate he backed to prevent the community from securing a new NBA arena. More than anything, Dolan, from his deposition, seems comfortable with letting his attorneys, lieutenants and buddy Irving Azoff handle the carpet bomb that he’s bankrolling.

Among the revelations from Dolan’s deposition in November, from a lawsuit MSG filed against the city of Inglewood, as reviewed by the Daily News, and according to sources close to the situation:

· Dolan said he barely knew the Inglewood mayoral candidate he supported with nearly $1 million.

· Dolan said he twice attempted to get Jeanie Buss to consider relocating the Lakers, who last played in the Forum regularly in 1999, to Inglewood.

. Adam Silver tried and failed to pitch a compromise to Dolan and broker a meeting between the Knicks owner and Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.

· Dolan said he didn’t know the City of Inglewood loaned his own company $18 million to buy The Forum, or the method of repayment.

· Dolan’s company logged about $1 million in lobbying expenditures in the State of California, according to public documents, with a goal of blocking the Clippers arena.

· Dolan said he didn’t know his company was funding lawsuits by a community group against Inglewood. The community group is alleged by the Mayor of Inglewood to be fraudulent and the creation of MSG.

· MSG and Azoff likely enlisted the help of reality TV tycoon Kris Jenner, among others in the entertainment industry with few ties to the people of Inglewood, to topple the mayor.

Asked to comment on Dolan’s testimony, MSG instead issued a statement attacking the Daily News, claiming a Tribune Publishing Company executive harbors a vendetta against Dolan. It addressed the story only by saying, “This story, based on cherry-picked portions of a deposition that are grossly misleading, is just the latest evidence of how low the Daily News is willing to go with its attacks.”

News Editor-in-Chief Robert York responded, “There is no truth to the claim of a vendetta by anyone toward Mr. Dolan or anyone at MSG. The NYDN’s sole mission is to accurately report relevant news and this piece fits the classic definition of newsworthy information.”

Here’s the backstory of the lawsuit and the deposition:

Azoff, a powerful figure in the music industry who once convinced Dolan to hire Phil Jackson as president of the Knicks, urged the Knicks owner to purchase The Forum in Inglewood in 2012. The two later formed a joint venture, Azoff MSG Entertainment. MSG then claimed to spend about $100 million in renovations (though the deposition pegged this amount at $40 million), with the idea it would become a premier entertainment and concert venue in Southern California when it reopened in 2014.

About two years ago, Inglewood announced it was entering exclusive negotiations with Ballmer on building a basketball arena just about a mile from The Forum. Ballmer’s goal is to move the Clippers into the new arena by 2024, when his lease expires with Staples Center.

Emails contradict statements, court filings in proposed Clippers arena deal »

A Ballmer-funded venue could be devastating to The Forum as competition for A-list entertainment acts. But to a city with a 20 percent poverty rate, according to a five-year Census Bureau estimate from 2017, it’s a potential economic boon.

That’s not to suggest there aren’t potential drawbacks to a massive construction project besides the ones to Dolan’s bottom line. Gentrification, loss of affordable housing and quality of life issues often arise from such projects.

But it’s certainly backed by longtime Inglewood Mayor James Butts, who was resoundingly re-elected in November.

“There will be over 1,000 construction jobs,” Butts told the Daily News. “It’s going to bring in millions of dollars in property tax and ticket tax and sales tax revenue which we’ll use for city services, increase public safety, improve our library service, improve our parks, street resurfacing. It’s a win-win for the community all the way around.”

Azoff, 71, claimed he was shocked by Inglewood’s decision and tricked by Butts into terminating a lease to a parking lot that was essential to the Clippers’ proposal. Dolan was furious, according to Azoff’s deposition from July of 2018.

“’You know what? I’m totally embarrassed,’” Azoff recalled telling Dolan. “I’ve never been blindsided like this in my entire career. I trusted (Inglewood Mayor James Butts). And I offered up my resignation.” Azoff did not resign from Azoff MSG Entertainment, and later that year bought out Dolan for $125 million. They reportedly continue to work together on The Forum.

Dolan, according to Azoff, said a resignation was unnecessary. Instead, Azoff continued to work with Dolan to squash Ballmer’s project by filing lawsuits — including for breach of contract and fraud against Inglewood — lobbying politicians, funding a community group’s lawsuit against the arena and launching PR campaigns.

They backed a big-time loser for mayor in Marc Little, who received just 18 percent of the votes in the November election. Dolan testified that he approved of MSG company contributing big bucks – variously described as around $700,000 and $900,000 in his deposition – to Little’s campaign, while Azoff, through his connections, raised more. Butts also benefited from a push by Ballmer.

Asked if he considered the ethics of supporting a candidate with nearly $1 million in out-of-state funding, Dolan answered, “The concept of getting – of having the city abide by its agreement and helping the Forum be successful, that was in my mind.”

According to the website for his book, “The Prodigal Republican,” Little is focused on “returning to traditional family values and encourages the reader to vote on biblical principles.” Inglewood’s voting population is overwhelmingly democrats.

“They spent a lot of money on an election here, for a candidate who didn’t live here,” Butts told the News. “They said he moved here 30 days before the election. More money was spent on that candidate than in the history of elections in the city.”

Not coincidentally, donations for Little in this suburban mayoral race arrived from L.A. power players with connections to MSG like Kris Jenner (Keeping Up With The Kardashians), David Geffen (music mogul), Linda Rambis (Lakers) and Joe Walsh (with the Eagles group, managed by Azoff).

Dolan was backing Little with financial force despite acknowledging in his deposition that he barely knew the candidate. He said they met once after he purchased The Forum several years ago, and then again in passing.

“It was purely social, right, the meeting (with Little), having nothing to do – it was not one-on-one,” Dolan said of the second meeting. “It was at an event. I remember that. Introduced us, you remember Marc Little? Yes. Hello Marc Little. Nice to see you again. That was essentially it. I recall that Marc Little had something to do with the church, right, who we bought the venue (The Forum) from, so that’s how – when someone introduced him, they said, ‘You remember him?’ That is the sum total of my interaction with Marc Little.”

The tactics are familiar from Dolan. Several years ago, he successfully worked a campaign to block the construction of a football stadium on the West Side of Manhattan. In that case, he thwarted the Jets, Mayor Bloomberg and labor unions because he feared competition with Madison Square Garden.

In his deposition, the Knicks owner said he spent between $12 million and $14 million in his campaign against the Jets arena. At least in that case, Dolan had a strong familiarity with New York City. With Inglewood, he had to trust a deposing attorney that the population was only about 100,000.

“If you say so,” Dolan replied.

With the Inglewood project, Dolan’s not only facing off against one of the world’s wealthiest people in Ballmer, but also running counter to the wishes of the NBA’s commissioner – Adam Silver – who publicly supported the efforts to build a new arena. A new building would ease scheduling problems with the Lakers in Staples Center.

According to Dolan, Silver proposed a compromise that included The Forum receiving a fee for any concerts booked at the new Clippers arena. Dolan also testified that Silver tried to broker a meeting between Azoff and a member of Ballmer’s group.

“It didn’t happen. I don’t know why it didn’t happen,” Dolan said. “I think it may have something to do with everybody wanting to bring their lawyers, which was seen as unproductive.

“That was the end of the matter. But, in any case, a proposal made to us on this basis would not be acceptable in terms of the problem we have with the new Clippers arena.”

While Dolan was working to make sure the Clippers never come to Inglewood, he was trying – and failing — to get another NBA team into The Forum.

The Knicks owner testified about two exchanges with Lakers owner Jeanie Buss during NBA Board Meetings, both centered on Dolan’s desire for the Lakers to relocate from downtown L.A.

“It was clear Jeanie didn’t want to have a discussion about it, with me at least,” Dolan said. “So she basically acknowledged that I was enthusiastic and changed the subject.”

Azoff had already discussed the Lakers moving to The Forum in emails with Buss and Lakers official Linda Rambis, according to the LA Times. Both women seemed receptive to Azoff’s idea in the email exchange – with Rambis even chiming in, “count me in!” – but Dolan testified that Buss was twice dismissive in person.

Both Azoff and Buss mocked the Clippers in their emails.

Ballmer has backed Mayor Butts, who supports the Clippers arena. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

The Lakers played at The Forum from 1967 to 1999. Their lease with Staples Center expires in 2025, but the sides are reportedly negotiating an extension.

“Returning The Forum to its original glory with the Lakers is, you know, a likeable idea,” Dolan said.

According to Azoff in his deposition from a year ago, “I have made an effort and I’m continuing to make an effort to get the Lakers to come to The Forum.”

In the big free agency sweepstakes of 2019, Ballmer and the Clippers won big by securing Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George. The Knicks and Lakers were rejected.

In the battle of a new Clippers arena, Dolan’s greatest asset is political red tape. Ballmer is waiting for the conclusion of an environmental review before he breaks ground, but he’s also dealing with accusations he unlawfully conspired with Inglewood to acquire land leased to MSG.

Regarding the lawsuits, there’s unlikely to be a resolution soon. MSG’s trial date is not until 2020, and the City of Inglewood recently filed for summary judgement to have case thrown out.

There’s also an appeals process, and potentially more lawsuits if and when Ballmer enters an agreement with Inglewood. Ballmer can break ground after an agreement, but with lawsuits pending, he risks sinking money into a project that a court demands he abandons. MSG can also file a lawsuit asking for a preliminary injunction, which is meant to maintain status quo and keep Ballmer from even starting construction. Other suits will see a similar process.

One suit involves a community group called Uplift Inglewood, which has a stated mission of combating gentrification and rising costs of living in the city. The suit alleges the city broke a law requiring it to give priority to affordable housing developers and other government projects before selling public land. MSG has admitted to making donations to the group through a third party, seemingly with the intent to hide the true source of funding.

A separate lawsuit against the construction was filed by community group IRATE, which claimed Inglewood violated the California Environmental Quality Act. Attorneys for MSG acknowledged in a court filing that the company was funding IRATE’s lawsuit.

According to its website, IRATE believes the Clippers arena “would destroy local businesses and impact thousands of residents with air pollution, traffic congestion, noise, construction and more.”

Mayor Butts said the group is bogus, a manufacture of MSG’s money. The group’s website offers no phone number, address or identities of members or leaders.

“There’s one group called IRATE that has no living people associated with it,” he said. “We don’t call it a community group.”


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