'Real' basketball fans hit out at David Beckham

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A backlash is brewing against David Beckham and his fellow band of famous Lakers fans, whose prime seats cost up to $20,000 each

He might look bored rigid, but don’t let appearances fool you: this picture shows Mr David Beckham and his eldest son, Brooklyn, living the Hollywood dream.

The occasion is Sunday night’s crucial play-off between the former England captain’s local basketball side, the Los Angeles Lakers, and their arch-rivals, the Boston Celtics. It’s half way through the fifth of a seven-match series that will decide who gets to call themselves NBA champions 2008 - and things are tenser than a tightly-cocked rubber band.

But enough about the game; let’s talk about the really interesting bit: its audience. In Hollywood right now, the only place for a self-respecting celebrity to be seen is courtside of the basketball arena at the Staples Centre in downtown LA.

Sunday’s game saw a veritable Oscar party's worth of celebrity fans. In addition to Becks, at recent games you've had, in no particular order: P.Diddy, Larry David, Will Smith and his wife Jada, Justin Timberlake, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Sly Stallone, and Robert Downey Jnr. Not to mention wee Floyd Mayweather fighting for elbow room with Denzel Washington.

Taking pride of place just behind the opposition bench was Laker fanatic Jack Nicholson, who attends almost all of their 60-odd games each year, and has even been granted his own “song” by the in house organist: a high-pitched version of Hit the Road, Jack. In the cheap seats behind him snappers spotted Tobey Maguire, Paula Abdul, Lionel Richie and his daughter Nicole, and Jennifer Garner.

If it sounds like overkill, that’s because it probably was. But oddly, in a town that usually worships at the altar of celebrity, a backlash is brewing against Beckham and his fellow band of famous Lakers fans, whose prime seats cost up to $20,000 each.

The Los Angeles Times ran a comment piece on Sunday complaining that the demand for tickets at the 20,000 seat arena has inflated prices to the point where real fans are unable to come. And while Beckham and co are perfectly happy to be seen courtside at the showpiece events, they are rather less eager to abandon their hard-fought dignity and actually cheer the Lakers on.

As a result, writer Bill Plaschke – a legendary name in local journalistic circles – complains that the atmosphere at the Staples centre for the paly-off matches has been a pale shadow of its normal self. In a Californian version of Roy Keane's famous "prawn sandwich" rant, he complains that the lack of passion on display in the stands has started to affect the team.

In recent games, the Celtics have mounted a series of unlikely comebacks to win games they had no right to. In one match on what was supposed to be their opposition’s home turf, they turned round a 24-point defecit, to win in the dying seconds. As a resut, at the time these pictures were taken on Sunday, Boston had taken a 3-1 lead in the series.

Plaschke blames the celebrity circus for at least part of the defeat, singling out Beckham (who has attended all three home games) for criticism. “Think about it,” reads his piece. “Has anyone actually seen David Beckham clap? Do many of these people even watch the game?”

Nodding in agreement is a noted Lakers nut called Michael Balzary, who is better known as the performer “Flea” of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. “More people are coming for the big deal event, and fewer for the basketball,” Balzary tells Plaschke. “And I notice that when the Lakers get down, people have gotten real quiet… Everyone is staring at their shoes, real quiet. A 20,000 person funeral march of zombies.”

Looking at the picture of Mr Beckham and his son, you might be inclined to agree. But maybe, in his defence, our nation’s most successful export is attempting to teach his American hosts the virtues of good, old fashioned English restraint.

Either way, Beckham's understated performance appears not harm the Lakers on Sunday: they closed out the game in the dying stages to win 103-98, and come back to 2-3 in the series. The circus now moves to Boston, where the Celtics play the Lakers in the sixth game of the series later today. Due to his fotballing committments, Becks will be well advised to watch on telly.

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