The Celebrity World of the NBA
By Brian Wheeler
After our game with the Lakers in Los Angeles recently, I stayed in town an extra day since we weren’t playing again for another couple of nights back home. I took a date to see a taping of “Lopez Tonight”, the nightly variety/talk show hosted by George Lopez. I’ve known George since 1996 when he was still touring the country on the comedy club circuit, hoping for his big break. It was easy to see he was extremely talented and funny, and I always thought it was only a matter of time before somebody in Hollywood discovered him. Fortunately, actress Sandra Bullock saw his act, and felt the same thing. She talked to all the high powered agents in L.A. and the rest is history. Now George is a mega-star. He’s not only the host of his own TV show, but he’s been in countless movies, and is still in high demand for live performances. He’s just gotten a little too big for the Punchline Comedy Club in Sacramento where I first met him years ago.
In his act, George often speaks of his childhood days when he and his family would all pile into a van to see an occasional game at Dodger Stadium. They didn’t have much money so he didn’t get to go as often as he would have liked. He also loved the Lakers and in particular, Magic Johnson, but the family rarely, if ever, could afford to go to the Fabulous Forum to see them play. Now that he has enough money to call his own shots these days, George has told me he gets to as many L.A. sporting events as he can. He knows Kobe Bryant is one of the greats to ever play in the NBA, and so he tries to see as many Lakers’ games at Staples’ Center as he can, perhaps in some small way to make up for all those years he couldn’t see Magic play in person.
So it got me to thinking. Just who are the very best celebrity NBA fans? Clearly, L.A. has their share, being right in the heart of all things entertainment. But many other NBA cities boast their own celebrity fans. Here’s a few that I thought of. See if I missed any in your mind.
George Lucas-Warriors….the Star Wars’ creator has supported the guys in the Bay Area for a lot of years, many of them quite lean!
Usher-Cavaliers…probably hasn’t been seen as much this season with LeBron not around anymore, but he is still a minority owner of the club.
Jimmy Buffett-Heat…long before LeBron and Chris Bosh joined D.Wade in south Florida, he was a loyal supporter of the team, so much so that he once got kicked out of a game after riding an official too hard…Mike Rice would be proud!
Chris Tucker-Hawks…he’s an Atlanta native and has been a dedicated fan for a lot of years, even if the team rarely sells out.
Kid Rock-Pistons…it would be easy to say that his last hit came about the same year the Pistons challenged for a championship, but I won’t go there!
Alice Cooper-Suns…he’s been a fan of this team since the days of Connie Hawkins and Neal Walk, and still runs a restaurant that Suns’ fans frequent before and after games called, “Alice Cooper’s Town”.
Tiger Woods-Magic…was seen a little more often at Orlando games before his celebrated marital troubles, but some say he’s starting to come back to his courtside seat in the team’s new arena.
Penny Marshall-Lakers/Clippers…she really is a true NBA fan as evidenced by the fact that she doesn’t just show up to be seen at a Lakers’ game; she’ll support the other tenant at Staples too.
Mark Wahlberg-Celtics…spends most of his time in Hollywood, but has been known to show up at Staples wearing his Celtics’ jersey…now that’s what a cocky New England guy would do!
Jay Z.-Nets…born and raised in Brooklyn, he’s now one of the owners of the team and is looking forward to the day very soon when they’ll be playing in his old hometown; he couldn’t convince LeBron or Carmelo to come to the Nets, but at least when he’s sitting courtside, we often get to see his far better half, Beyonce, in the seat right next to him!
Woody Allen-Knicks…he was Spike Lee before Spike Lee; a proud New Yorker who has supported the Knicks since Willis Reed was limping on the court for Game 7 back in 1970.
Timothy Hutton-Blazers…a recent addition to the celebrity list; had to get a local in here somewhere, but he’s been very supportive of the team and the city of Portland ever since he started filming his TV hit, Leverage, in our fair town back in 2008, and besides, I used to love his dad in the old NBC mystery show, Ellery Queen.
Eva Longoria-Spurs…didn’t see her in San Antonio when we were there recently; guess that means she and Tony Parker aren’t quite back to marital bliss yet, and maybe they won’t be; if not Tony, hopefully she’ll find another NBA team to root for in person because she’d be a major loss to this list otherwise!
Billy Crystal-Clippers…you know you’re a diehard NBA fan when you could easily show up and be among the many celebrities at a Lakers’ game, yet you choose to be among the few at a Clippers’ contest instead; that’s what Billy decided to do years ago; I know he’s a Yankees’ fan growing up in New York and all, but I give him credit for trying to be different as an NBA fan in Hollywood.
Dyan Cannon-Lakers…she goes back to the days cheering for the purple and gold at the Forum when Jack Kent Cooke was the owner and Paula Abdul was a Lakers’ girl; a fixture in her baseline seats for years, she clearly is not just at Lakers’ game to be seen.
Spike Lee-Knicks…hard to miss in his courtside seat at the Garden; impressed that he doesn’t sit with his hands folded checking his text messages; he is into every game, and we’ll never forget his back and forth with Reggie Miller in the playoffs years ago.
Jack Nicholson-Lakers…without question, the #1 name on any NBA celebrity fan list; has been a Lakers’ courtside season ticket holder for over 20 years, but will also often attend games in other cities, especially during the playoffs; if you want him for a film, better be ready to work around the Lakers’ schedule; he’s had a lot of wives and girlfriends in his life, but the Lakers remain his first love!
So there you have it. My list of the top celebrity NBA fans. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few that are noteworthy. Feel free to provide some of your suggestions in the comments’ section below. By the way, George Lopez told me he’s always been a Brandon Roy fan, and I brought him an autographed jersey of Brandon’s last season. Brandon told me he’s always been a fan of George’s. So if we get to play the Lakers in the post-season, don’t be surprised if you see a few Blazers in the audience for a future taping of “Lopez Tonight”. Those L.A. celebrities would have nothing on us!