From Jack to Spike to RiRi to Drake, exploring the joys of the single greatest vantage point in sports
There truly is nothing like the NBA Playoffs.
The high-energy atmosphere. Fans screaming to the tops of their lungs. A different level of intensity brought by the world’s best basketball players locked into every possession. The postseason is the gift that keeps on giving.
When an overzealous fan is thrown into the mix, the viewing experience gets even greater. And when that overzealous fan happens to be one of the world’s biggest public figures, you have the perfect ingredients to create classic moments on the sideline that become as much a part of the game as what’s happening on the hardwood.
There are known celebrity superfans out there, like LA lifers Jack Nicholson and Jimmy Goldstein, who are capable of maintaining their cool and stay reserved while taking in these games. And while those types provide an aura of restraint even while exuding incredible star power, the real fun comes when celebrities do what they do best:
Draw attention to themselves.
Celebrity superfans go hand in hand with playoff basketball, and legendary director and screenwriter Spike Lee making Madison Square Garden his home might just be the finest, most canonical example of the courtside seat becoming the ultimate flex. From heckling Reggie Miller during the 1994 Eastern Conference finals one round after playing the role of irritant to Scottie Pippen in the Eastern Conference semis to getting humbled right back by Reggie in a true full-circle moment, every single interaction was memorable.
Spike has become so synonymous with being courtside rooting on his Knicks that his fandom has been documented in ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries and lyrics from heavyweight rappers such as Jay-Z and Lil Wayne. And nearly three decades years later, Spike is still kicking: In the Knickerbockers’ first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, he and Trae Young shared a words on occasion over the course of the five-game set.
But while Spike has proven to be one of the longest-tenured celebrity superfans in the culture, there has been a new generation of stars to emerge recently who might just give him a run for his money in the years to come.
Rihanna’s presence during the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors’ four-year NBA Finals streak from 2015-2018 has been well-documented. She played the role of LeBron James’ biggest cheerleader while simultaneously serving as Kevin Durant’s biggest antagonist, and while Rihanna’s backing probably felt terrific to LeBron — especially during his Cavs’ 2016 title run — the jeers might have given Durant a little extra motivation in 2017 and 2018 on his way to consecutive championships and Finals MVP awards.
And who could forget Drake, the most visible rapper in the world, playing the role of the unofficial sixth man for the Toronto Raptors as they raced to their first-ever chip in 2019. Even after being named the global ambassador for the Raptors and having their practice facility named after his OVO record label, Drake hasn’t become any more professional on the sidelines. In fact, he has become even more of an annoyance for opposing players.
The celebrity superfan is here to stay in the NBA, and the courtside seat will always remain his or her premier opportunity to flex, whether for barking at opposing players and refs or getting their “Frank Lucas at the fight” on. And quite frankly, the game is better because of it.