If you been to an NBA Playoff game in the last few decades, chances are good you might have seen James Goldstein somewhere courtside. As NBA commissioner David Stern recently told Interview magazine, “James Goldstein is our largest investor in NBA tickets in the world. And, he’s the most uniquely dressed fan.”
Goldstein — or “Jimmy,” as he is known by many — not only holds floor seat season tickets for the Lakers and Clippers, but he spends his springs and summers flying around the country to get to as many Playoff games as he can. Equal parts hoops head and rock star, it’s not like Goldstein is easy to miss — a noted fashion fan, Goldstein can usually be found in his signature wide-brimmed hats and colorful skinny pants and jackets.
We caught up with the man who is arguably the NBA’s biggest fan last weekend in Miami, where he was, of course, courtside for the Finals, to talk hoops and style.
NBA.COM: So someone told me that this year you’ve been to 53 Playoff games?
JAMES GOLDSTEIN: How many did you say I’ve been to?
NBA.COM: I believe it’s 53 games?
JG: Well, that would be physically impossible, without being in two places at the same time. I’ve been to 31 Playoff games, which is right on par with what I’ve been doing for 20 years. I’ve seen between 30 and 40 depending on how long the series play out.
NBA.COM: When did you become an NBA fan?
JG: When I was 10 years old. So, a long time ago. I’ve pretty much seen the history of the NBA.
NBA.COM: I know you grew up in Milwaukee? What was it about basketball that grabbed your interest?
JG: Well, first of all, I loved playing basketball as a kid. I loved what I considered to be the finest athletes in the world, playing basketball. I loved the athleticism. So I started watching the NBA at a time when it received virtually no attention from the media. The audiences were typically a thousand people a game. They had to schedule double-headers with the Globetrotters appearing the first game in order to get fans to come. There was never anything in the newspapers about the game, so it was very hard to find out what was going on. And there were practically no games on television. That’s when I started out. I always championed the NBA as a high school student, and wrote my term papers about the NBA, and that kind of thing. And I had a job as an NBA statistician when I was 15 years old.
NBA.COM: In Milwaukee?
JG: Yes, I worked for the radio announcer. It was a non-paying job, but I sat at halfcourt, and it was my first courtside experience.
NBA.COM: When did you end up in Los Angeles?
JG: After graduating from Stanford University, I moved to Los Angeles, in the early ‘60s.
NBA.COM: And did you immediately start going to Lakers games?
JG: Yes, immediately. I also started going to Golden State games as well.
NBA.COM: Your love for fashion is well-documented. I was just curious, what do you make of the recent interest in NBA players and fashion?
JG: I think it’s a long time coming. It used to be there was a time when the players wore custom-made suits by tailors that weren’t very good, usually loose-fitting suits that weren’t very well made. Then they started all wearing a hip-hop look — baggy jeans and long t-shirts and jewelry. All the emphasis seemed to be on jewelry, and I could never understand why the players weren’t spending money on clothes. Finally, in recent years the players are getting very fashion-conscious, trying to show up at the press conferences wearing something special and unique. Which is where I’ve been coming from most of my life. So, I certainly relate to it.
NBA.COM: Where did your interest in fashion come from? Have you always wanted to be on the avant-garde of fashion?
JG: Yeah, since I was a teenager. I always was a step ahead of my classmates while I was in school. I started traveling to Paris in my twenties, getting really inspired by the style of the Parisians. I just kept expanding my fashion awareness as time has gone on, started going to fashion shows all over the world, started to become recognized for the way I dress, to the point where the Europeans now all know who I am because of fashion, not basketball. Where the Americans seem to know me from basketball, not fashion. It’s like I two different lives.
NBA.COM: Since you have such a connection to Europe and have been traveling there for so long, you’ve probably been able to see the growth of the NBA there the last few decades.
JG: As far as the international awareness, I’ve attended preseason games over in Europe, and I’ve attended a lot of international games such as the World Championships and European Championships, etcetera. So, I’ve certainly observed the growing interest in basketball in other countries, and I’ve been very happy about that. I think one of David Stern’s greatest achievements has been to help make basketball a worldwide sport.
NBA.COM: I know you have relationships with a lot of the players in the NBA, so I won’t make you pick a favorite, but which players do you think now are among the best-dressed in the NBA?
JG: I don’t want to make a complete list because just off the top of my head I won’t think of everybody, but a few that come to my mind… of course, Kevin Durant, Tyson Chandler, Russell Westbrook. I noticed in the last series I attended, Paul George seemed to be moving in that direction. Amaré Stoudemire I think was one of the first ones. Name a few more and I’ll tell you whether I agree or not, but I can’t just rattle them off…
NBA.COM: Dwyane Wade?
JG: Yeah, Dwyane Wade I should mention above all of them because he’s the one who actually made a t-shirt with my face on it and wore it to a Lakers game this season.
NBA.COM: What did you think when you saw that?
JG: Well, I was very pleased, of course. I thought it was the ultimate sign of flattery. I was very proud.
NBA.COM: With as many games as you get to, and as many places as you travel to, what is it you do for a living that allows you afford to sit courtside at so many places?
JG: It’s a very expensive hobby, as is the regular season, where I own a pair of floor seats to both the Laker games and the Clipper games. I’ve been fortunate enough to make some real estate investments in California that don’t require much of my time and provide me with a monthly income that supports my basketball habit.
NBA.COM: What was the greatest moment you’ve seen in person at an NBA game?
JG: There are too many great moments to say what was the one greatest, but I’ve had what I consider to be unique fan experiences, that I don’t think other fans have experienced. One of them that stands out in particular was when I was following the Houston Rockets around during their championship years in the ‘90s, and they sort of made me part of the team — I attended all the practices and games. And in a Conference Finals against San Antonio, after Hakeem Olajuwon had been outplayed by David Robinson, I pointed out a couple of observations that I made during the next day’s practice. And the following night he scored 45 points and gave me a huge hug after the game and thanked me for what I had told him. So that’s the kind of thing that stands out.
NBA.COM: That’s amazing, and that to me is what’s so unique about you: In a lot of ways you get to blur the line between just being a fan and being something a little bit deeper than a fan. You’ve been able to kind of become part of the teams or part of the League in a way.
JG: That’s the way I feel. I know so many people in the NBA, at all levels of the NBA, and it’s sort of like my family.
NBA.COM: Before I let you go, I want a Finals prediction from you, since you’ve seen so much of the Playoffs in person this year.
JG: (laughs) OK, well, you’re gonna put me on the spot with that. After watching all the San Antonio Playoff games this season, and watching the Miami Playoff games in the last series against Indiana, I have to make San Antonio the favorite. On the one hand, San Antonio swept Memphis, with a very strong team performance on offense, sharing the ball, and some tremendous defense against players such as Zach Randolph. Whereas Miami struggled against Indiana and had to go 7 games to beat them. Now, in the seventh game, Miami played vastly superior basketball, compared to the way they’d played in the previous six. Maybe they can sustain that in the Finals, and if so my prediction might be wrong. But as far as overall Playoff performance, I would say San Antonio’s been the strongest team in the NBA so far.