This Basketball Arena No Place for Sneakers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Some Staples Center employees call it "Fort Knox with a smile," and it's easy to understand why.

The Fabulous Forum was paradise for those fans who wanted to see a Laker game but didn't have a ticket. Pop open a door here, grease a ticket-taker's palm there, and presto--it's Showtime. Not so with Staples, which has state-of-the-art methods of keeping the sneaks on the sidewalk.

"I'd be shocked to find out people were sneaking in," said Michael Roth, Staples Center director of communications. "We're very secure, in a friendly way."

Every ticket has a bar code that is scanned at the door, and officials have the ability to deactivate stolen or lost tickets, rendering them useless. Then, new tickets are issued to the proper owners.

It is not uncommon for someone to buy a ticket from a scalper, only to find it has been deactivated and they have been duped.

"I've seen people just devastated," said Brenda Tinnen, senior vice president of event and guest services. "It's frustrating to me that people get taken advantage of. We have to ask them questions, then turn them away. And usually the game is sold out, so they don't even have the option of buying replacement tickets."

Tinnen also sees plenty of counterfeit tickets and passes. Some look legitimate, but some are laughable.

"A few of them look like they were typed out on a manual typewriter," she said. "They'll just take an old ticket and paste something over the top."

One guard, who asked not to be identified, said Wednesday he turned away more than one fraud.

"They'll just have a Xeroxed piece of paper pinned to them that says 'Staples Center Press' or 'Lakers Press,' " the guard said. "If you've got a good computer and and good printer, you can come up with something."

Life in the fast lane: Ever wonder what it would feel like to be Shaquille O'Neal for a day?

Pasadena's A.D. Vasquez doesn't need to dream. He has a black Isuzu Trooper with smoked windows and California plates that read "SHAQ 34."

"When I come up to a stop light, people start honking and waving to me," said Vasquez, who works for the L.A. County Sheriff's Dept. "For a second I think they might know me. I have to remind myself it's the plates."

He attended the game Wednesday and wore his front plate as a necklace. It took some quick thinking by Vasquez to get that coveted piece of jewelry. On the day the Lakers signed O'Neal in 1996, Vasquez made a beeline for the Department of Motor Vehicles and filled out a vanity-plate application. He did the same when the Lakers traded for Kobe Bryant, requesting "KOBE 8."

"We were just about to get it," Vasquez said with a touch of sadness, "but she canceled the application at the last minute."

Smart move. Get real, Shaq and Kobe living under one roof?

Going in style: Friends Bill Robb and Derrick Wilkerson saved their Sunday best for the NBA Finals. They wore huge hats and velvet suits--Robb's purple, Wilkerson's gold--and the outfits might have stopped traffic had 11th Street not been blocked off already.

"Everyone wants pictures," said Robb, 44, who owns a costume shop in Hermosa Beach. "We're here to have fun. Everyone else is wearing T-shirts and jerseys. We just wanted to be a little different."

They succeeded. Get a load of Robb's get-up: He wore a purple, oversized, Dennis Rodman-style cowboy hat with a huge gold feather; a purple velvet jacket with subtle swirls and leopard trim, and matching pants; and white boots with five-inch platform soles. He had four gaudy rings on one hand, three on the other, and a massive dollar-sign necklace.

Only in L.A.: Times staffer Robin Abcarian spotted a car with a Laker flag fluttering on one side, and an upended broom poking out of the other. Behind the wheel? A Muslim woman in traditional garb.

On no, not Bono: There were all sorts of reactions to the halftime entertainment, a few minutes of a U2 concert beamed live from Boston. Some fans thought it was bad. Others thought it was really bad.

"If they were talking to us directly it might be cool," said Mark Rowen, who had a prime seat just off the court. "There's no acknowledgment that they're playing it to us."

Another fan, Gary Schneider, didn't bother to crane his neck to watch the concert on the scoreboard screen.

"The quality is average--very average. That's what's hurting it," he said.

Good quality or bad, Janet Mayer wasn't interested.

"Even if it was a band I liked, I probably wouldn't have watched," she said.

Will work for tickets: Peter Madden, a lifelong 76er fan, is desperately searching for tickets to one of the games in Philadelphia, and has come up with an ingenious plan. He is offering 76 hours of public relations and marketing work by his company, Agilecat Communications, in exchange for two floor seats.

OK, so he'll budge a bit.

"I'm shooting for the moon trying to get on the floor," he said. "I'd be happy to get into the building."

If he doesn't get any takers, he has a sure-fire backup plan.

"If that happens," he said, "maybe I'll dress up as Jack Nicholson and walk right into the First Union Center."

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