Yet another Hollywood publicist has called upon Tim Harris to get her client Lakers tickets -- preferably courtside -- for the next playoff game.
This particular request comes on behalf of the actress Mo’Nique and, like so many times, Harris must turn to his assistant for help.
“Chianti!” he will call out. “I have no clue who this is.”
The team’s senior vice president of business operations, Harris might not be particularly hip or up to date with the entertainment scene, but industry insiders know him as the go-to guy when celebrities want camera-ready seats at Staples Center.
That makes him the unlikely keeper of Lakers Cool or, as actor Andy Garcia says, “a good person to know.”
An easy talker, sharply dressed if not overtly trendy, Harris walks through the arena with a bundle of VIP passes in his jacket pocket, tending to the pop culture vibe that makes this team unlike any other in professional sports.
Jack Nicholson in sunglasses at courtside. Dyan Cannon sitting next to Magic Johnson along the baseline. Denzel Washington and Leonardo DiCaprio nearby.
At Wednesday night’s game against the Utah Jazz, soccer star David Beckham posed for pictures with fans while Jodie Foster hurried back from the snack bar during a timeout. “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau scored courtside seats not far from producer Brian Grazer.
“The entertainment world loves the Lakers,” said Harris, keeping tabs from a spot at the far end of the arena. “And we love the fact that fans like to see who’s coming to the games.”
Harris, 46, appreciates the importance of celebrity guests, even if they represent a small portion of his overall duties. Last week, he worried about finding four seats in a row for Heather Locklear.
“I really want to help her,” he said. “She’s a big fan. A Lakers fan. Plus, a very nice person.”
On most nights, the Lakers put aside several hundred of the arena’s 18,997 seats for corporate sponsors, broadcast partners, the visiting team and VIPs.
Not all the stars need help getting inside. Nicholson and Cannon, among others, have held season tickets since the Forum days. Many of the major studios, record companies and talent agencies also keep season seats on hand.
The house seats are distributed by several well-placed team executives. Save for a few exceptions, VIPs must pay face value, which ranges as high as $3,000 for the second round of the playoffs.
Harris handles about 70 seats in the best locations, as well as parking passes and the gold tickets that grant halftime access to the Wachovia Chairman’s Room, a small, exclusive bar beneath the stands.
With space for fewer than 100 people, “the Room” has always been the arena’s ultimate status symbol.
“There are people who care more about this,” Harris said, holding up a gold ticket, “than where they are actually going to sit for the game.”
Hours before Wednesday’s tip-off, he arrived at the still-empty arena dressed in a gray suit with a pink shirt and matching tie. His work all but done -- Locklear got her seats from team executive Jeanie Buss -- he needed to be on hand for any glitches.
An actor who shows up with no seat for his bodyguard. A singer who does not have her parking pass.
With his affable style -- hardly the Hollywood stereotype -- Harris has come to know some celebrities personally, but deals mainly with agents and publicists. He has grown accustomed to the ways of the business.
For example, handing out plain tickets won’t suffice.
“We have learned this about celebrities -- they like passes,” he said. “They like to have a credential hanging there.”
The video board is another tricky matter.
“It’s rare that an agent asks us to put his client on the video board,” Harris said. “They couch it in a different way. They say it’s OK if we do.”
And what about agents who ask that their client not be shown?
“Even then, you kind of have to read between the lines,” he said. “Do you mean ‘Please don’t,’ or do you really mean ‘Please do’? There are only a handful where it is truly a ‘Please don’t.’ ”
All of this might sound ridiculous to the average fan, but catering to celebrities is good business.
During the glamorous “Showtime” years in the 1980s, when they won five NBA championships, the Lakers realized their location in an entertainment capital afforded them an edge that perhaps no franchise outside of New York City could hope for.
The team can extend its marketing reach beyond the sports pages, onto gossip pages and websites that run lists of celebrities in attendance. Entertainment shows feature shots of Hollywood couples in the stands.
This also boosts the visibility of the NBA and Staples Center.
“Every sports team wants [its games] to be thought of as the place to be,” said David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at USC. “What could be more of a tribute than to have those courtside seats ringed with A-list celebrities?”
Tobey Maguire, star of the “Spider-Man” movies, appreciates the symbiosis. Sitting behind the basket Wednesday, he said, “I just come to the games because I’m a fan, but I do think there’s an element of entertainment and show.”
Harris refers to the Hollywood-sports connection as a “marriage that works.” But, like any marriage, it can have rough spots.
Some celebrities and agents think they can call on game day to procure courtside seats.
“Occasionally you just get a gigantic disconnect and you get a call from a publicist or someone who says that so-and-so is willing to come to a Laker game and willing to sit down by Jack . . . and I have to break the news that, uh, it really doesn’t work that way.”
Pushing the envelope
Outlandish requests are not limited to tickets.
“We got a request from a TV sitcom star,” Harris recalled. “Her publicist calls up and says she wants to come to a game. And, by the way, could you have Shaq and Kobe come by her seats at halftime to say hello?”
A publicist for several actors in “High School Musical” recently called for tickets to a playoff game -- in Utah. Before Wednesday’s game, Harris said an entertainer whom he declined to identify -- “I wouldn’t call him mainstream” -- tried to get tickets for free, then haggled over the price.
The entertainer finally agreed to buy cheaper seats. Fifteen minutes later, he called back to cancel the sale.
“Probably got a better deal somewhere else,” Harris said.
But for every unpleasant Hollywood experience, Harris can name celebrities he likes. Nicholson and Maguire. Garcia and Washington. DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.
If they need help, he stands ready. Otherwise, he leaves them alone at games.
Harris, a former UCLA soccer player, watched the first half Wednesday with his wife and two young sons. Halftime was spent with a visitor in “the Room” -- Beckham and Garcia showed up, television host and former Laker John Salley and a network executive stopped by to say hello.
The place was crowded and hot, so Harris talked to a Staples Center executive about turning up the air conditioning for the next game. It was perhaps the only hitch in a smooth evening.
After that, things went well enough that he could turn his full attention to the game, watching the Lakers pull ahead in the last minute.
It was a crucial victory for the team but probably generated more work for Harris. The better the Lakers play, the more people want tickets.
And that means more agents calling his office.