SACRAMENTO — The new owners of the Sparks walked right past the floor seats set aside for them last Saturday night in Arco Arena.
Carla Christofferson and Kathy Goodman, longtime Sparks season ticket-holders, instead veered to their right and climbed up an aisle behind the Sparks bench toward the upper reaches of the arena's lower bowl, cheerily settling in among two busloads of Sparks fans who had made the trip from Southern California.
Christofferson and Goodman, who bought the team from Lakers owner Jerry Buss in December, are fans as much as they are businesswomen and they wanted to support the supporters by sitting and shouting among them, which they did passionately and unabashedly from opening tip to closing horn.
Earlier, they'd arrived not in a limo but squeezed into a cab.
No divas, these two.
"We are part of this community," Christofferson said.
Only later, after the Sparks had dropped a hard-fought 88-85 decision to the defending Western Conference champion Sacramento Monarchs, would the new management team take advantage of the perks of ownership.
Christofferson and Goodman -- a lawyer and a high school English teacher, respectively, living out the ultimate fantasy of sports fans everywhere who dream of running their favorite team the way they want it run -- sat down in a cozy lobby bar in a downtown hotel after the game and chit-chatted with a group of staffers and friends that included former Laker Michael Cooper, their handpicked coach.
At that moment they had separated themselves from the team's more casual fans, literally and figuratively, a point made clear by the gleam in Goodman's eye when she was asked to identify the coolest thing about owning the Sparks.
"If I'm going to be a geeky fan about it, I would say, the players saying hi to me," she said. "And hanging out with Michael Cooper. It's very cool."
Christofferson, who turned 40 last Saturday, and Goodman, who turned 44 last Friday, are more than business partners.
They're best friends.
They're not a couple.
This is not to say they've gone out of their way to end the speculation about the nature of their relationship that has swirled since it was announced last fall that they'd led an investment group that paid $10 million for the Sparks.
"I think actually it raises my stock significantly," Goodman said, laughing at the conjecture, "so I don't see any reason why I should deny it. I joke with Carla all the time about it. I'm like, 'I'm going to say it's true because I think it makes me look really good. You're in trouble. You should deny it. But not me.' "
Her business partner is a former Miss North Dakota. Twice divorced, Christofferson is dating Adam Shell of Encino, a 31-year-old businessman, filmmaker and singer-songwriter who in December released his debut album, "Vacant Room."
But even Shell, whose company installs home audio systems, believed when he first met them a year ago that Christofferson and Goodman were a couple.
"It's a running joke," he said.
Goodman finds it curious.
"One of the things that I think is really interesting is that, whenever women do things together, there's an assumption that they must have a romantic relationship," said Goodman, who is single. "But when men do things together, no one makes that assumption. People assume because all of these women come to WNBA games with their female friends that they're in romantic relationships with them.
"But I've been to a lot of Laker games and there are lots of guys there with their guy friends and no one says, 'Oh, my God, look at all these gay guys.' "
Noting that, "I have a lot of friends who are gay," Goodman said that she and Christofferson simply "share a very uniquely compatible vision of the world, which always surprises me because we come from two very different places."
Christofferson, literally a farmer's daughter who said she cannot ever remember wearing a dress before she was coerced into entering her first beauty pageant as a high school senior, grew up about 15 miles outside tiny Tolna, N.D. (population: 240). She was a tomboy growing up and an all-state basketball player in high school, but it was her success in beauty pageants -- her talent was playing the flute -- that brought scholarship money and allowed her to further her education, first as an undergraduate at North Dakota and later at Yale law school.
"Between that and an Elks scholarship, suddenly I got to go to college," said Christofferson, whose father lost the family farm before she bought it back a few years ago. "It went from, 'How do I go to college?' to, 'No problem.' "