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NBA All-Star game: Celebrities bring cachet, complications

NBA executive says the demand for courtside tickets is higher than he has ever experienced.

February 19, 2011|By David Wharton
  • Pascal Mouawad and Spike Lee greet each other alongside Lindsay Lohan before the Lakers-Knicks game at Staples Center.
Pascal Mouawad and Spike Lee greet each other alongside Lindsay Lohan before… (Alex Gallardo / Associated…)

Dustin Hoffman will be there. So will Spike Lee and Justin Bieber.

It comes as no surprise that celebrities want to sit courtside for the NBA All-Star game Sunday — basketball and the entertainment industry share a long history together.

And this year, with the league's midseason celebration nestled up against Hollywood, there should be a glut of familiar faces in the crowd.

Which makes Charlie Rosenzweig, the league executive who handles celebrity ticket requests, a very busy man.

"I've been with the NBA for 20 years," he said. "I haven't experienced anything like it."

His phone started ringing before the season began and has not stopped. Agents and publicists are suddenly his best friends.

With a limited number of seats to hand out, the senior vice president of entertainment and player marketing must act like a doorman at a trendy nightclub, deciding who gets in — and who does not.

"We try to balance it," he said.

Ironically, the league says it has been informed that two of the best-known regulars at Staples Center — Jack Nicholson and Denzel Washington — cannot attend.

But the audience will not lack for star power, not with Hollywood types such as Chris Tucker, Andy Garcia and Rob Reiner on the list. Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Steven Tyler and Diddy highlight the musicians expected to come.

Celebrities who regularly attend Lakers and Clippers games received priority, Rosenzweig said. Then came famous people also known as basketball fans.

Garcia fit the bill in both respects.

"When he comes, it's not about sitting courtside," Rosenzweig said. "He's here to watch the game."

Regardless of their hoops IQ, stars make good business sense for the NBA. When entertainment television programs and gossip magazines feature pictures of them in the stands, the game reaches an entirely new audience.

"It's a testament when the motion picture industry is interested in your sport," said Jim Kahler, a former Cleveland Cavaliers executive who now oversees the Center for Sports Administration at Ohio University. "It's an endorsement."

A former entertainment industry attorney, Rosenzweig did his homework last fall, looking ahead to see who might have a film or album coming out about now. He tried to guess at performers — such as breakout artist Bruno Mars — who might make a splash at the recent Grammy Awards.

The league also welcomed entertainers such as Bieber, the teen heartthrob who connects with a younger demographic, and Chinese actress Huang Yi.

"That's a smart tactical move," said Ben Sturner, CEO and founder of the Leverage Agency, a New York-based sports entertainment marketing firm. "There could be over a billion people watching and [the NBA] is trying to grow its brand in China."

But the movie and music crowd brings with it certain complications. Rosenzweig has heard from more than a few agents who wanted players to stop by their client's seat at halftime.

"We get that all the time," he said.

And famous people often come with bodyguards. Rosenzweig cannot afford to give them tickets, politely explaining that the league provides its own security staff.

On Sunday, many of the celebrities will arrive to a red carpet — in this case, it is actually magenta to match the color of a major corporate sponsor. Escorts will show them to their own VIP section with their own celebrity restrooms.

There will be a detailed seating chart so that television cameras can find those recognizable faces during the broadcast.

Rosenzweig is still waiting to hear about last-second cancellations and additions, listening for word of big names who have arranged for tickets on their own. He expects to be working until Saturday night, figuring out exactly who will show up.

It has been a long few months for a man who has needed to say "No" to people who are not necessarily accustomed to hearing that word.

"I haven't had anyone leave me [nasty] messages or threaten me," he said. "But check back on Monday."

david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

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