Celebrities love the NBA. Actors, artists, models, retired athletes, you name ’em—you see so many famous faces catching games courtside that basketball players have to have great stories about chopping it up with someone who has more clout than they do.
Take J.J. Redick. The Sixers sharpshooter can easily recall the times he high-fived Jack Nicholson as a rookie, heard it from Floyd Mayweather because the boxer had a prop bet riding on his ability to get buckets, or the time Ashton Kutcher, of all people, was talking shit to him. On the other end of the spectrum, players like Tyson Chandler, Kyle Korver, Deandre Ayton, Eric Bledsoe, and Tobias Harris never notice the people sitting courtside. It’s like they have blinders on and they’re able to completely ignore anyone—no matter their follower count—stationed mere feet from them on the hardwood.
But the guys who actually pay attention to the famous faces have a story (or two) to tell. So we invaded a few locker rooms and hopped on the phone with a bunch of current and former NBA players to ask them their favorite celebrity courtside stories. If you’ve heard any of these before, you’re moving in some elite circles.
Kobe Bryant, Lakers legend and future Hall of Famer, famous for his intense focus and killer instinct, remembers how he doesn’t remember a very famous comedian talking to him during Game 1 of the 2010 NBA Finals.
“The one that sticks out is the lack of interaction that I had during a playoff series with Chris Rock. I got home, and we had the TV on. They’re showing highlights of the game, and they show Chris Rock sitting next to the bench at Staples Center. Like, talking in my ear about just random stuff, I guess. I don’t know. It’s just me and Chris Rock, but I’m looking dead-ahead. I don’t even hear him. It’s not even an acknowledgment, and he’s right in my ear. That’s the one that sticks with me the most. I didn’t even know that happened. It was pretty funny to look back at.”
Donovan Mitchell, an impressive second-year player for the Jazz, had a welcome-to-the-NBA moment early in his rookie season in 2017 involving a boxing legend/courtside regular at Staples Center and perpetual defensive pest Patrick Beverley.
“My first month of the season, I hadn’t made a NBA 3-point shot. I was still trying to figure my way out, wasn’t playing too great. We were playing the Clippers and we’re down by 16 or 17, and I went on, like, an 11- or 12-[point] run by myself against Patty Bev. And I was like, ‘Oh, this is exciting. Floyd Mayweather’s front row.’ I’m talking trash and I’m looking at Floyd like, ‘Hey, this is what I do.’ I’m trying to be like that little kid and be funny. I guess Patty had dealt with Floyd or they knew each other. And I guess Floyd motioned over to him like, ‘Don’t let him do that to you.’ And I didn’t score the rest of the game. Floyd kind of looked at me and shrugged his shoulders, like, ‘Well.’ I think that was a pretty funny experience. I was on top of the world for those 12 points, and I was quickly grounded in a matter of seconds.”
Austin Rivers, currently with the Rockets, played four seasons with the Clippers, so he saw plenty of celebrities sitting courtside. Just like Donovan Mitchell, one of his most memorable stories features Floyd Mayweather stirring things up.
“I never had a problem with Floyd, so it was always fun. What he does is he tries to gas up two dudes. It could be whoever. It could be two star players. It could be two bench players. He’ll be like, ‘Yo, yo, he can’t guard you.’ And that guy will hear, purposely, and they’ll start going at it. He’s done that with me on a couple of players. He did that with me and Dennis Schröder—getting us to go at each other. Sure enough, we did. Kevin Hart will say stuff. It’s the usual suspects. Floyd’s definitely one of the more vocal [courtside celebrities]. I mean, that’s what he is. He’s a boxer, and those guys talk. So you have Floyd, Kevin. Hov comes to the games but doesn’t say anything—maybe to LeBron. I’m not in that breath, so I don’t know who he talks to.”
James Harden isn’t a man of many words. The Rockets star usually lets his game do the talking, and one night in Philadelphia his sharpshooting shut up Sixers superfan Kevin Hart real quick.
“It wasn’t at Houston. It was at Philly. Kevin Hart talking smack and telling me that I wasn’t going to score and I wasn’t going to do this and wasn’t going to win, and I think I ran off, like, 10 straight points and we won the game.”
P.J. Tucker thinks it’s cool when famous people turn out to be real basketball fans. Like most NBA players, the Rockets forward and famous sneakerhead has talked trash to Spike Lee, and he remembers the time he met JAY-Z.
“I’ve had some back-and-forth with Spike before. A bunch of people at the Garden before. Nothing too crazy—everything more just fun stuff. They’re just fans. Like, [celebrities] are fans, but you’re not really knowing they’re, like, real fans. A few celebrities, like, know you and you don’t even realize it. [Meeting] JAY-Z was dope.”
Wilson Chandler, currently with the Clippers, remembers the historic night in 2009 when Kobe Bryant went crazy in Madison Square Garden. It was his job to guard Kobe, and the Knicks’ most famous fan wasn’t helping.
“When Kobe had 61 in the Garden, Spike kept talking shit to him, and I was like, ‘Damn, would you leave him alone? He’s killing us.’ I had to guard him. I didn’t start the game off guarding him, but all highlights they show, it’s me at the end, so that’s all that matters. I’m like [to Spike], ‘My dawg, would you leave him alone? He already got enough fuel.’”
Kobe added: “I told Spike after the game it was all his fault. He can take credit for that one.”
Dwyane Wade usually keeps it cool when he sees celebrities at games, since he’s married to Gabrielle Union. But the future Hall of Famer, who just finished his 16th and final NBA season, couldn’t contain himself when he saw Denzel Washington sitting courtside earlier this season.
“I’m sure there’s a lot if I think, but what’s fresh on my mind is being in Staples Center this year for my last game in L.A. You know, most of the time, athletes try to be cool when they see their favorite actor or actress sitting courtside, as well as my wife sitting courtside. But Denzel was over there, and all the coolness got out of me. I ran right over there to Denzel, like that’s my guy, that’s my favorite actor. All the coolness just left, but I had the opportunity to just go over there and have that moment. He said some very uplifting words to me about my career and how I handled it. It made me a little emotional inside just to know someone I looked up to as a kid followed my career and he had the things he had to say. For me, it gets no cooler than that.”
Additional Reporting: Macklin Stern
Art Direction: Tommy Lam
Illustrator: Marcus Allen
Animator: Dan McNamara and Chop $uey Cheen