Croce Won't Cave in, Not Even to Clinton

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bill Clinton?

Pat Croce wasn't impressed.

Not even the former president could get into the private box of the Philadelphia 76er owner for Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

"I don't have any room," Croce said. "No way."

Croce also turned down a request from Clinton to sit courtside in the second half.

"I'm not moving any of my season ticket-holders," Croce said.

Another luxury suite was made available for Clinton and his party of about 50.

"The only people in my box are family and friends," Croce said. "We get about 25 people in there. And I rotate so I get my biker friends in there, my karate dudes, my shore [presumably the Jersey shore] dudes.

"You never know, one of my biker friends might try to welcome the president and get shot by the Secret Service."

Did Croce hesitate about snubbing Clinton?

"I don't care," Croce said. "He never called when we were losing. In my box, I only want people who support us."

So Croce, who never has met Clinton, didn't care about shaking his hand?

"I don't think he wants to shake my hand," Croce said. "He just wants good seats."

Would Croce, who wouldn't reveal his party affiliation, have the same attitude if President Bush had called?

"I don't answer hypothetical questions," Croce replied.

At least Croce can't accuse Clinton of wasting his ticket.

After getting in the spirit by stopping off for a cheesesteak sandwich while en route to First Union Center, Clinton arrived before the opening tipoff and stayed past the final buzzer.

And it was clear he paid attention.

He allowed a reporter to briefly join his Secret Service escort out the door so that he could analyze the game.

"The key was Robert Horry," Clinton said. "You've got to give it to him. He played a great game and he hit those two big three-pointers. And Kobe Bryant had a great first half."

So is Clinton a 76er fan or a Laker fan?

That much he wouldn't reveal.

This past week, Clinton has shown himself to be a well-rounded sports fan. In a span of five days, along with Sunday's game, he attended the French Open tennis tournament and the Belmont Stakes in New York.

And somehow, he always managed to get a good seat.

Kobe who? Don't bother looking for Kobe Bryant memorabilia around his old high school, Lower Merion High in Ardmore, a Philadelphia suburb.

Bryant led the Lower Merion Aces to the state basketball title in 1996, but it's hard to find much evidence of him around the school.

No pictures, no banners, no posters.

In fact, the only mention of Bryant is on a banner stuck up in a ceiling corner of the gym where Bryant first became a star. It denotes the school's 1,000-point scorers. Alongside the names of Mitch McDaniel, Kirsten Kepner and Ali Cohen is "Kobe Bryant, 2,883."

These days it's hard to find anything movable around the campus with the words "Lower Merion."

A Philadelphia radio station is holding a scavenger hunt. Bring anything back from Lower Merion with Bryant's name or likeness on it and contestants win a prize. Failing in that, simply bring back something with the words "Lower Merion."

In response, school officials have locked up or removed any items that might qualify. Visitors are questioned at the main entrance.

"We were told to get rid of everything we could," one administrator said.

Charged up: Bobby Poppiti, who has had a license plate since 1978 that reads SIXERS, was one of many who took umbrage at what they considered cheap shots in The Times about the city of Philadelphia.

Spotting a reporter whose credential identified him as a Times staffer, Poppiti yelled, "At least we have electricity."

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