The NBA has long been the favored sport of artists and entertainers. If you're hip and beautiful and eager to be recognized by the cameras, nothing beats a $1,000 courtside seat in David Stern's league.
Spike Lee and Woody Allen have been fixtures at Madison Square Garden for years. No Lakers game is complete without the requisite close-ups Jack Nicholson and Dyan Cannon. Billy Crystal clings to the dubious title of world's greatest Clippers fan. And lest we forget our sensitive neighbors to the north, both Michael Douglas and the artist again known as Prince were courtside for a recent Toronto Raptors game.
But celebrity fandom reached a dubious low last week when singer Jimmy Buffett, a long-time Miami season-ticket holder, was removed from his courtside seat for making profane comments at the officials during a Heat-Knicks game.
Referee Joe Forte had no idea that he was tossing a pop music icon, the chief Parrothead. All he knew was that Buffett was hurling obscenities with a child -- which turned out to be his six-year-old grandson -- sitting alongside him. Not coincidentally, the incident came just days after Allen Iverson's ugly exchange with a fan in Indiana, which ignited a national debate on fan misbehavior.
What the league ought to do now is recruit Buffett to do one of those publicity spots for its national network telecasts. With "Margaritaville" playing in the background, he could express his remorse over the ejection and reaffirm his love for the NBA.
"Some people claim that there's a woman to blame, but you know, it's my own damn fault," Buffett could say. Then he'd smile at the camera and shout, "I love this game!"
The NBA could put together a campaign of "It's my own damn fault!" promotional spots, featuring the myriad of league personalities who have been guilty of dubious judgment over the past several months:
The Lakers' Kobe Bryant takes the blame for his silly feud with Shaquille O'Neal; he realizes it doesn't matter who is The Man, but whether the Lakers come together as a team to defend their NBA championship.
The entire Nuggets team apologizes for boycotting practice and putting Dan Issel's job in jeopardy. Issel could admit he was acting like a tyrant and needed to let up.
The Knicks' Marcus Camby says he regrets headbutting his own coach while trying to punch Danny Ferry last month. Jeff Van Gundy stands beside him, a patch covering the gash over his left eye.
The Suns' Clifford Robinson and Jason Kidd do a dual mea culpa, with Robinson contrite about his arrest for drunk driving and pot possession, and Kidd sorry about the arrest for hitting his wife.
Dallas owner Mark Cuban says he's sorry for accumulating $395,000 in fines for criticizing the officials. And he can't imagine what came over him in that ridiculous Penthouse interview.
Portland's Rasheed Wallace concedes it was his own damn fault for throwing a towel at a referee, earning himself a suspension and fine.
Seattle's Gary Payton apologizes for publicly humiliating Paul Westphal and helping to get him fired as head coach. He grudgingly admits that even he is not perfect.
Rick Pitino says he's sorry for setting the Celtics franchise back about 20 years. And no, he wouldn't think of undermining Steve Lavin at UCLA.
Chris Webber apologizes to the citizens of Sacramento for calling the city "boring". Teammate Jason Williams says he regrets his five-game suspension for getting caught again for smoking pot.
Iverson again promises to soften the intolerant lyrics in his rap album, and to stop using that derisive terms for gays.
Clearly, the NBA has a lot to apologize for nowadays. Commissioner David Stern was so concerned that he met with leaders from the players' association at the All-Star Game to discuss the public's growing negative perception of the league.
That brings back memories of 20 years ago, when a young Stern convinced the players that they needed to be improve their public relations at a time when the NBA's reputation was at an all-time low. Things aren't nearly that bad today, but TV ratings are down, attendance is flat and too many players are getting into trouble.
A lot of sports fans dismiss the NBA as a bunch of selfish, undisciplined players going one-on-one, a league filled with millionaires who can't shoot straight and can't control their egos and emotions.
It's too bad, because the league isn't nearly as bad as its harshest critics make it out to be. There's a lot of rising young talent in the league, emerging superstars like Bryant, Iverson, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis, Dirk Nowitzki and Lamar Odom.
Much like today's NFL, there's been a dramatic shifting of powers. Three years ago, Philadelphia, Sacramento, Dallas and Milwaukee all finished out of the playoffs and well below .500. Now they're all vying for divisional titles and being touted as possible championship contenders.
All right, chances are Stern and his buddies aren't real thrilled about the prospect of a Sacramento-Milwaukee final. But it would be a treat for fans who pine for the days when teams ran up and down the court and routinely scored over 100 points.
If only the league could tone down its act, maybe the public would pay more attention to what's happening on the court and realize there's actually a lot worth watching. Anyway, here's a few superlatives to ponder as we look ahead to the second half:
Most Valuable Player: 1. Allen Iverson, Philadelphia. 2. Chris Webber, Sacramento. 3. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota.
No player under 6-foot-5 has been named MVP since Bob Cousy in 1957. But Iverson is leading the pack after carrying the injury-riddled Sixers to the best record in the league over the first 50 games. He showed signs of wearing down over the last week or so, but he's come into his own as a team leader.
Webber puts up big numbers every night, home and road. He's in the top 10 in scoring (27.3), rebounds (11.4) and blocks (2.2). The big question is whether he'll still be in "boring" Sacramento next season. Garnett just keeps on getting better, and he's the main reason the Timberwolves took an 11-game winning streak into the break.
Coach of the Year: 1. Larry Brown, Philadelphia. 2. George Karl, Milwaukee. 3. Jerry Sloan, Utah.
Brown has been without starting point guard Eric Snow since Dec. 5. Matt Geiger has played only nine games and Toni Kukoc has been fairly useless. Still, Philly has the best record in the game. He still struggles with Iverson at times, and he seemed close to burnout early in the year, but this is another of his great coaching jobs.
The Bucks started 3-9, then won 22 of 28. Karl is proving that it's still possible to win with a bunch of offensive stars if you can get them to play a little defense. Sloan might be the most underrated coach in NBA history. All he does is win 50-plus games every season.
Teams on the rise: 1. Boston. 2. Houston. 3. Minnesota.
The Celtics have gone 10-5 since Pitino stepped aside. Jim O'Brien scrapped all the traps and has them playing simple, effective defense. Antoine Walker has been marvelous over the past month, which tells you how much he misses Pitino's ranting.
Hakeem Olajuwon has stepped up his play for the Rockets since deciding he didn't want to get traded to Miami after all. Led by Garnett, Terrell Brandon and the rejuvenated LaPhonso Ellis, the Timberwolves were the hottest team in the league at the break.
Teams in decline: 1. Indiana. 2. Cleveland. 3. LA Lakers.
The Pacers signed Austin Croshere to a seven-year, $51 million contract, hoping he'd make fans forget Dale Davis and Rik Smits. Wrong. The Cavaliers got off to a hot start, then the reality of inferior talent caught up to them. The Lakers aren't playing like a team anymore, but it'll help when point guard Derek Fisher returns in another month.
Rookie of the Year: 1. Marc Jackson, Golden State. 2. Kenyon Martin, New Jersey. 3. Morris Peterson, Toronto.
Jackson, the former Temple star, knocked around Europe for three years before winning a job in Warriors camp. Apparently, Dave Cowens has taught him a thing or two. Jackson averaged 17.2 points and 9.8 rebounds in January and was named rookie of the month. He is shooting over 50 percent from the field and 80 percent from the line.
Martin is still bothered by the broken leg he suffered at the end of his senior year at Cincinnati last March, but he has come on lately. He had 20 points and 11 rebounds in an upset over the Sixers last week. Peterson has given the Raptors' offense a needed complement for Carter since Lenny Wilkens made him a starter a month ago.
Unsung heroes: 1. Aaron McKie, Philadelphia. 2. Malik Rose, San Antonio. 3. Doug Christie, Sacramento.
McKie has been a key factor in the Sixers' rise to the top, averaging 13.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 6.9 assists since replacing the injured Snow at point guard in early December. The 6-7 Rose has been an ideal backup on the Spurs' front line, averaging career highs of 9.4 points and 6.8 rebounds. San Antonio struggled when he missed seven games with a hip problem, then won eight straight when he returned.
If Geoff Petrie wins executive of the year, it'll because of the trade that sent Corliss Williamson to Toronto for Christie, who is the main reason the Kings have dramatically improved their defense and contended for first place overall.