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Ticket for Finals, $12,000; Courtside View? Priceless


How much would a person pay to land one precious floor seat for the NBA Finals, and, with it, entree into the Los Angeles Lakers' peculiar Xanadu of fame, beauty and power?

The answer, ticket brokers say, is as much as $12,000, enough to cover a year of tuition, room and board at UCLA or, if you'd prefer, 30 rounds of Botox injections. That's if you can get them at all--far from a slam-dunk proposition.

Come the playoffs, Staples Center's first few rows become Southern California's priciest real estate. Studios have been known to bid for the rights to prize vantage points like they would for bestsellers. Hollywood couples have written their disposition into divorce settlements.

Mostly, it is a territory prowled by season ticket holders and their guests, celebrities and corporate pooh-bahs. Those at Friday's Game 2 between the Lakers and the New Jersey Nets said there was no price--not love, not money--that would get them to part with their seats on the Staples floor.

But if brokers are to be believed, a few, a tiny trickle, a minute handful of tickets reach a public willing to pay the moon to share airspace with Jack Nicholson and hear the meaty thud of Shaq's shoulder meeting the solar plexus of a hapless defender.

For his slice of paradise, Mondo Martinez, a longshoreman from San Pedro, shelled out $900, a bargain price for a seat a few rows behind the basket. He came with three buddies, none of whom would qualify as rich or famous, and all of whom seemed deliriously happy to be so close to courtside for a championship series game.

"I just can't believe I lucked out," said Andy Aguilar, who got one of the seats when Martinez's girlfriend couldn't make it. Another pal, Preston Easley, a maritime injury attorney from San Pedro, said this was about more than mere hoops.

"Stargazing is part of the fun," Easley said. "It gives it a bit of luster. You're not just seeing a basketball game."

There are some 20,000 seats at Staples but only 124 floor seats for the Finals, six fewer than in the regular season to accommodate the NBC broadcasting team.

Each Finals floor seat ticket has a face value of $2,000 and all are owned by season ticket holders, most in lots of two or four. It's been many, many years since any of these seats came up for grabs, said John Black, the Lakers' director of public relations.

A small percentage make their way into the resale market and, by Thursday, the city's most entrenched ticket brokers claimed to have courtside seats for prices ranging from $5,500 to $12,000 a pop. Seats in the first seven rows of the arena's lower bowl were somewhat more attainable, ranging from $900 to $9,750 each.

Steve Gabel, a long-suffering Nets fan from Highland Park, N.J., said he was offered floor seats from a broker in Connecticut for $17,000 apiece. Thanks but no thanks, he said. Instead, he bought four seats in Row B, just off center court, for a price he wouldn't specify--except to say that each ticket had three zeroes and then some.

Gabel, an environmental and energy consultant, said he's never done anything "within 500 miles" of such extravagance, but, well, it seemed like the thing to do. He came with four friends, one of whom was celebrating his 40th birthday.

"This is huge for me," Gabel said at halftime. So far, he said, it had been well worth it, even though his team ended up losing by 23 points. "It's not quite Continental Arena," the Nets' home court at the Meadowlands, "but it's close to heaven," he said.

The Lakers give away house seats for each game (they are reluctant to say how many), but a hefty chunk are controlled by the league and sponsors, or are given to guests of the opposing team.

Tim Harris, the team's vice president of sales and marketing, juggles calls from the celebrities and corporate big shots--or, more often, from their people--who want the rest.

"It's amusing when they give you the throwaway, 'I'm willing to pay,' " said Harris. "Sometimes the label or publicist will add, 'Oh, by the way, they wouldn't be opposed if you wanted to put them on the video board.' As if that's gonna make a difference."

It's no simple numbers game for Harris, either. In a company town rife with feuds and tangled personal relationships, the seating chart at Staples can be as ticklish as a formal dinner at the White House. At Wednesday's game, the team inadvertently put a celebrity in a house seat directly in front of her ex-husband.

Penny Marshall, director and Laker fixture, casts an empathetic eye on all the playoff machinations from her floor seat near the visiting team's bench.

"I see a lot of people who don't usually come," she said, quickly adding that she sees them neither as fair-weather fans nor as desperate for TV time.

"I can't put them down for trying to get tickets," she said. "I'm going to New Jersey. I was up in Sacramento."

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