I regularly attend Los Angeles Lakers games in the STAPLES Center in downtown Los Angeles. When I bring a guest who hasn't been to a game in a long while or ever, binoculars are a must. My seats are at the corner of the court half-way up the court level and are situated across from the visiting team's bench.
The Lakers are seated at the other end of the court and although you can see the players without help, getting up close and personal, as they say in television, is much more fun. Some visitors bring binoculars that resemble those I imagine are used on a battle field: large and heavy but able to see beard stubble on the cheeks of players.
But it's not just Kobe Bryant and coach Phil Jackson who give the occasional guest the biggest thrill. It's about who is in the audience from the entertainment business. The first question I get is always about where the Lakers are sitting. The second question is invariably about where to see Jack Nicholson. After that, those that are Lakers fans know that besides Jack, the regulars in the audience include Dyan Cannon, Denzel Washington and Penny Marshall and I quickly move away as they swing those huge binocs around to catch sight of their favorites. From there I make suggestions for viewing without being asked. There are the movie industry moguls, the rock and hip-hop stars, the actors and their guests/dates/partners. It's better than lunch at The Ivy for star gazing, especially when the game is against a tough opponent.
Part of the fun of attending the Lakers games is precisely the kind of star watching I describe. Even catching sight of Lakers management and ownership is an event here in Los Angeles. The owner's daughter, Jeannie is Phil Jackson's girlfriend of long standing and can be seen close to the court or sometimes in her father's sky box in which guests can include Hugh Hefner and his blond companions as well as former players and local business people.
Jeannie Buss is also a great business woman who has managed the non-sports business side of the Lakers organization for some time now. She has helped create this great buzz that washes over you as you walk into the building. Instead of being afraid of the criticisms uttered by fans in other cities about fans' star gazing and the celebs attending games to be seen rather than to watch a game, Jeannie celebrates it. And why not?
Sports is big time entertainment and competes with concerts, theater and cinema choices that take the hard earned dollars of fans. The game is important to us all, believe it or not, but who can blame us if we like to sing along with Randy Newman's "I Love LA", or clap as the Jumbotron screen flashes with shots of Flea, Joe Walsh, Leo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and so on and so on? The Buss family has succeeded in getting visitors to look past the cost of food, parking and beer with the Lakers providing great basketball games and the celebrities making you feel like you've attended a premiere and not just a sporting event. My business is sports and I like the atmosphere as much as a first time visitor. How else could we attract the sports stars who have graced our court for so many years?
The one thing the organization hasn't done is to provide a "star map" for the arena but I guess that is what we regulars are for. Just be careful and don't hurt me with those heavy binoculars, okay?