Courting Controversy: Celebrity NBA Fans Making Themselves Part of the Game
Drake is just the latest celebrity to make himself an irritating courtside presence
If you’ve watched any of the Eastern Conference Finals series between the Raptors and the Bucks you’ve seen plenty of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe, Kawhi Leonard was Kyle Lowry.
Also? Lots and lots of Drake. Maybe too much.
The rapper and former Wheelchair Jimmy thrust himself onto center stage during the last two games of the series from his court-side seats in Toronto, taunting the Bucks, praising the Raptors and generally making himself a nuisance to anyone who wants to watch basketball instead of an overly-emotional Canadian.
An officially recognized “global ambassador” of the Raptors since 2013, Drake reached his apex of annoying Tuesday night when he essentially walked onto the court to give Toronto coach Nick Nurse a shoulder rub. Nothing in the coach’s posture indicated he felt like getting a rubdown from a grown-up Degrassi Junior High cast member who’d maybe had one too many Labatt Blues, but still, Drake’s famous. He can get away with it in his hometown.
After his team lost the road game 102 to 120, Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer was asked whether it was fair that a celebrity received special treatment. “There’s certainly no place for fans and, you know, whatever it is exactly that Drake is for the Toronto Raptors,” he said. “You know, to be on the court, there’s boundaries and lines for a reason.”
While Budenholzer has a point, Drake is far from the first celebrity to ignore those boundaries and lines and make themselves a part of the game. Everybody old enough to recall the idea of the New York Knicks having glory days in the 1990s, remembers Spike Lee’s presence. While he hasn’t had much to cheer about for … over a decade, since the Knicks have been awful for years on end, but director Spike Lee used to be a court-side fixture in New York during the team’s playoff runs from 1993–2000 that saw them take on the Indiana Pacers and Reggie Miller six times.
Those numerous playoff matchups provided an ample amount of time for the animosity between the famed director and NBA sharpshooter to fester and build. Unlike Drake, they were actually entertaining to watch.
I guess no one remembers Spike Lee vs Reggie Miller https://t.co/K7ZxPEhon5— Mike Moore (@MikeMclassic) May 23, 2019
Lee’s battles with Miller were such an ongoing plotline of the NBA playoffs that Seinfeld writers incorporated them into a 1997 episode of the show:
Kramer: “Well, first of all, for some reason, they started the game an hour Late. And uh, I was sittin’ nextto Spike Lee an’ he an’ Reggie were jawin’ at each other, so I guess I got involved.”
Jerry: “Well–wait–wait–wait–wait! What do you mean ‘involved’?”
Kramer: “Well I.. ran out onto the court an’ threw a hotdog at Reggie Miller. ‘Involved.’ An’ they threw me, an’ Reggie, an’ Spike out o’ the game.”
Elaine: “So that’s it?”
Kramer: “Well I, well I, felt, pretty bad about everything an’ uh, then the three of us, we went to a strip club.”
Prior to Lee and Miller beefing on the hardwood, Los Angeles superfan Jack Nicholson getting into it with opposing players and coaches at The Forum in Los Angeles was a fairly regular occurrence. Once, when Larry Bird had the ball on the sidelines in front of Nicholson and his teenage godson Nicky Adler, the 82-year-old said: “Bite the son of a bitch.”
And Nicholson wasn’t afraid to take his act on the road. Once, during a game at the Boston Garden against the hated Celtics, the three-time Academy Award winner reportedly stood up and dropped his drawers so he would show the home crowd his bare ass.
“I’ve seen a lot of fans in my day and to me, there’s a difference between being an ass and being a fan,” then-Celtic general manager Red Auerbach said at the time. “When a guy goes up and moons to the crowd, well … I actually heard the L.A. people themselves were embarrassed. The players expressed to me a total disregard for his antics.”
Boston fans, however, began looking forward to hosting, and roasting, Nicholson.
While Nicholson hasn’t been seen watching the Lakers nearly as much lately, it’s fair to wonder if Drake would be doing what he’s doing up north if Jack hadn’t done what he did out west in the ’80s.
Other more recent celebs beefing with NBA players include:
Rihanna v. Kevin Durant
Kevin Hart V. Dwayne Wade
Lil Wayne v. Miami Heat
As for Drake, there are two ways to look at it: if you don’t like him or the Raptors, he’s a nuisance. But as we’ve seen in the past, especially in the case of somebody like Spike Lee, whose films might not be every New Yorker’s cup of tea, but who fought the good fight against the hated Reggie Miller, the celebrity NBA fan does take on something of a local folk hero status.
And while Drake wasn’t on TV as much during Toronto’s 105-99 win in Game 5 in Milwaukee, he’ll surely be stalking the sidelines for Game 6 on Saturday night in Toronto, adding to his legacy.
He’s just lucky Charles Barkley no longer plays in The Association as the NBA Hall of Famer said he’d “knock the hell out of Drake” if he encountered a fan acting the way Drake does.
“That’s way we used to do it,” Barkley said on TNT. “If there was a fan that was giving us a hard time, I’d say, ‘Hey, man, lose the ball out of bounds’ and you got to knock the hell out of him. And then, this what you’ve got to do: ‘Hey man, you all right?’”
Hopefully, Giannis was listening.
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