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Coronavirus has burst NBA bubble of most recognizable L.A. superfan

James Goldstein attends the 2018 NBA All-Star Game 2018 at Staples Center.
James Goldstein attends the 2018 NBA All-Star Game 2018 at Staples Center.
(Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)

It’s at least a $50-million view from James Goldstein’s terrace, all of Los Angeles glistening in the sunlight below one of the city’s most iconic homes. And for Goldstein, 80, it’s the perfect place for a television.

Sure, there’s a 130-plus-inch screen inside Goldstein’s den that would be perfect for NBA basketball, but with the sun out and games on 10 or so hours a day, why not catch some rays too?

“I have that view and the game at the same time,” Goldstein said in a phone call last week.

But not even one of the best ways to watch basketball in the world — and the terrace at the Goldstein house “has got to be one of them,” according to an NBA executive who’s been there — can satisfy the multi-millionaire’s most consuming hobby. He’s addicted to attending NBA games.

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And he’d happily trade his eight-figure view for a spot in the league’s Orlando, Fla., bubble.

Montrezl Harrell could be back on the court for the Clippers later this week, but the death of his grandmother still weighs heavily on him.

For the first time in two decades, the NBA playoffs will take place without Goldstein courtside, without his high-fashion leather jacket and pant suits, the signature hats and neckerchiefs that have made him one of the NBA’s most recognizable fans.

In a normal year, he’d average attending 35 playoff games. And this year, he almost certainly will attend none.

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“I can’t really grasp what it’s going to do to me,” he said.

James Goldstein watches as players warm up before Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals
James Goldstein watches as players warm up before Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Oakland.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

In a memo sent to teams Wednesday, the NBA outlined its plans for players to invite guests into the bubble following the first round of the playoffs. According to the rules, players can invite only family members or people with whom they have long-standing relationships. Business partners and agents are among those prohibited. So too, it appears, are real-estate moguls who need their NBA fix.

When asked about the possibility of Goldstein attending playoff games at some point, an NBA executive said matters would have to drastically change.

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This is about more than just going to basketball games, and reclaiming the courtside seats he owns near the visiting bench for Clippers and Lakers games. It’s about more than a multi-millionaire jet-setter with nowhere to jet set. As with so many people, it is about a person unable to enjoy some of his most valued connections because of the coronavirus.

James Goldstein shakes hands with Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap in 2019
James Goldstein shakes hands with Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap following a game against the Lakers on Dec. 22, 2019, at Staples Center.
(Michael Owen Baker / Associated Press)

“I miss it tremendously,” Goldstein said. “Because for me, going to a game is more than just the experience of watching a game — because I’ve developed such a close relationship with all the visiting teams. I talk to the players before the game, talk to the coaches. I talk to media people. I have a relationship that’s so close to everybody in the NBA. And now suddenly, I’m cut off from that.”

It’s common to see the NBA’s biggest stars peel off from their pregame warmups to chat with Goldstein before games, often posing for pictures with him. For some, it’s not really a big game unless Goldstein is present, dressed in black leather with a young model on his arm.

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James Goldstein shakes hands with Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell in 2019
James Goldstein shakes hands with Utah guard Donovan Mitchell before the start of a first-round playoff game between the Jazz and Houston Rockets on April 22, 2019, in Salt Lake City.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

Goldstein was asked by the Clippers to be a virtual fan for one of their seeding games, but after initially agreeing he found the technology too complicated.

“I started watching what they’re showing on TV with these virtual fans. And I think it’s so ridiculous looking that I’m glad that I wasn’t able to figure it out, to be honest with you,” Goldstein said.

It might be for the best because it’s unlikely there’s a less virtual NBA fan than Goldstein. He has attended as many as 39 playoff games in one postseason. He’d be courtside at night and on a Southwest flight in the morning, headed to that night’s best game.

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At 82, Jerry West doesn’t try to hide the cracks in a fabled life. “I wish I would have done something really important in my life.”

His love of the NBA — a love that traces 65 years to when Goldstein worked with the Milwaukee Hawks radio team, helping keep stats — has grown into a $600,000 a year habit.

“I’m usually on a plane every single day during the first two rounds of the playoffs,” he said.

But now, as with so many, he’s grounded. And he’s holding on to hope that when the biggest games of the NBA season get played, he’ll somehow be there in person, able to enjoy basketball with his NBA family.

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“I’m going to try and pull every string that I can,” Goldstein said.


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