There are celeb NBA fans, and those on our A-list

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The Associated Press
Then-Dodgers manager Joe Torre jokes with actor Billy Crystal during the first half of the Clippers-Lakers game in Oct., 2008.

Let’s be Crystal clear about this: Without L.A., there are no celebrity NBA fans.

So if you’re scripting an A-list of the league’s most loyal season-seat holders, it starts and ends here.

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That’s just the fact. Right, Jack?

Sure, we’ve got our share of vapid seen-and-making-a-scene pretty boys and girls who pop in for some TV face time. Zac Efron, front and center.

But to qualify for our first All-NBA All-Star celebrity rosters, we recognize outstanding performance by an actor, musician or otherwise legend in a supporting role for their hometown team.

It’s L.A.-vs.-Everyone Else. Watch how these stars aligning for our simplistic purposes:

TEAM L.A.:

The coach:

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== Jack Nicholson: Refs who can’t handle the truth swallow their whistles when he gives them that look from “The Shining.” Visiting coaches make sure they don’t step into his line of vision, or else.

He knows talent, too. Sports Illustrated had a story back in 1976, right after he earned an Oscar for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The Lakers’ Gail Goodrich passed by Nicholson’s courtside seat at the Forum before a game and said, “We really need Chief now,” referring to the large Indian character from the movie. Nicholson replied, holding his hands about a foot apart: “Naw, he can only get this high off the floor.”

That’s why he’s chairman of the Staples Center Chairman’s Room. With Lou Adler as his top assistant.

The starting five:

== Billy Crystal: Analyze this: How can anyone be crazed enough to buy tickets for Clippers game over the last 20 years and keep a sense of humor about it? Who’s laughing now?

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== Dustin Hoffman: Everyone else gives the “Kiss-Cam” lip service. He makes it his masterpiece.

== Leonardo DiCaprio: “He sits right behind my wife,” says Kobe Bryant, “and they get a little rowdy.”

== Denzel Washington: Despite the Yankees cap.

== Andy Garcia: Fourth row, opposite the Lakers bench, behind that piercing glare.

The bench: Ice Cube, Flea and Anthony Kiedis from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Michael Clarke Duncan, Ashton Kutcher, Tobey Maguire, Edward Norton, Dyan Cannon, Cameron Diaz, Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Frank Robinson, Hilary Swank, Will Ferrell, Glenn Frey, Jessica Alba and Penny Marshall. And no Arsenio Hall.

The mascot: Snoop Dogg.

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TEAM NBA:

The coach:

== Spike Lee: Reggie Miller’s little friend is now used by the Knicks in free-agent presentations – although it didn’t sway LeBron James (“We got hoodwinked. Led astray. Hornswoggled,” Lee said of that). With his kid-sized jersey and natural directing ability, he’d do the right thing by buying the franchise and making the Carmelo deal himself.

The starting five:

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== Jay Z: His net worth ($150 mil) and co-ownership of the Nets could actually get the franchise moved to Brooklyn. Beyonce, are you coming?

== Woody Allen: Sooner or later, Soon-Yi has to find her own Madison Square Garden floor seat.

== Jimmy Buffett: Refs once bounced the Miami Heat superfan from the home arena for shouting profanities. Coach Pat Riley tried to defend his parrot-head pal and almost got tossed, too.

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== Mark Walhberg: Brother Donnie could be bigger in Beantown, but “The Fighter” gives Marky Mark more street cred. That, and “Boogie Nights.” Et tu, Dirk?

== Matt Damon: Phil Jackson reportedly barked at him once during a Lakers-Celtics game: “Sit down and shut the (bleep) up.” Wicked.

The bench: Prince (Minnesota), John Mellencamp (Indiana), Kid Rock and Aretha Franklin (Detroit), Tiger Woods (Orlando), Vince Vaughn and John Cusack (Chicago), Eliza Dushku, Steven Tyler, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner (Boston), Nelly (Charlotte), Alice Cooper (Phoenix) and Usher (Cleveland).

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Ex-honorable mention: Eva Longoria (San Antonio).

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Jim Gray, go home

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Jim Gray, working for Golf Channel as a free-lance reporter at the PGA’s Northern Trust Open this weekend at Riviera Country Club, was removed from the coverage today by the network after a confrontation Thursday involving Dustin Johnson’s caddy Bobby Brown, who was held responsible for Johnson arriving late for a tee time.

The Wall Street Journal reported (linked here) that Gray was “defying protocol” when he asked Brown during live play in Thursday’s first round the circumstances behind Johnson receiving a penalty for appearing late. Later, Gray and Brown apparently got into a “heated exchange.”

The Associated Press reported that Brown and Steve Stricker, who was in Johnson’s group, were confronted by Gray, who was waiting on Johnson during the long walk from the 13th green to the 14th tee. Gray later reported Johnson said he was misinformed on the tee time.

After the round, Brown took the blame for the mistake and then turned his frustration toward Gray while Johnson was signing his card for a 2-over 73. Gray walked up on the conversation and Brown said to him, “Dude, you can’t come up like that in the middle of the round. It had taken us 13 holes to get over that, and then you bring it up again.”

Johnson did not mention Gray during a brief interview with The Associated Press in the parking lot Thursday afternoon, but Stricker was visibly angry when discussing it after his round, and several other caddies were outraged when they heard about it.

Golf Channel’s website (linked here) quoted a network spokesman: “Our aim is to provide the best possible golf coverage for our viewers. Anything else is a disservice. In order not to provide further distraction, we’ve decided to remove Jim from this particular assignment.”

Last August at the PGA Championship, Gray was involved in a verbal confrontation with Corey Pavin, arguing that the U.S. Ryder Cup captain gave him misinformation about whether Tiger Woods would be a wild-card selection.

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It’s Out of the Question: Sign us up for Leiweke signage

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LABusinessJournal.com

He’s glad-handling something here, picking pockets over there, photo-opping everywhere else there’s a swarm of cameras and an opportunity.

A song-and-dance mover, shaker and bellyacher right out of “The Music Man.”

So what prevents Tim Leiweke from selling name rights to Tim Leiweke?

Look at all that prime real estate available. A wardrobe ready to be converted to a NASCAR jumpsuit. Plenty of cap space, if chooses to wear a cap, or cap his teeth with that salesman-like smile.

Step right up and ride this mechanical bull to the fullest extent of giving people the business.

Sprint — that pretty much describes what Leiweke does most of the day from board room to interview room to restroom – can take the lead here, pointing its spotty cellphone towers in a new direction.

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Thanks, by the way, for buying into that Leiweke arena he built in Kansas City three years ago, with big dreams of having an NBA or NHL team jump in just because it was there.

How’s that Sprint Center working for you now? Just glad to have a “Toy Story 3″ ice show stay an extra couple of days, in hopes the crowd sleeps over for an Arena Football League game?

Matthew Perry is doing better with the ficticous Sunshine Arena than K.C. is doing with its sunshine bandbox.

(Hey, just a hypothetical — Would happen if Leiweke talked L.A. into letting him build a pro-football-ready downtown facility, and the NFL didn’t come?)

What if we give Sprint the right to logo every bright yellow tie that Leiweke wears for the next 15 years. Can you hear us now?

Oh, what about O2, the broadband company in the United Kingdom that named-up the AEG arena in London? Please tell us your knickers still aren’t in a bunch after trying to fill those AEG-sponsored 50 Michael Jackson concert dates that sadly fell through a couple of years ago? It’s bad, we know it.

What if Leiweke arranged to offer up the two panels of his rear end for your make-good signage? One on each of the cheeks he’s trying to turn in your favor. You’d be sitting pretty, eh?

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And how about our new friends at Farmers Insurance, who should be setting up a booth inside Staples Center for Lakers and Kings season ticket holders, offering them policies to protect their investment after watching their teams roll over against a sub-.500 opponent on any given night.

See all the pub you’ve received without even price-gouging one more current customer into helping pay for this $700 million Farmers Field? You’ve got the Dodgers pondering Farmer John Field in Chavez Ravine, unless Frank McCourt is told to do otherwise by his Farmer’s Almanac.

Put up some more pretend money and buy the rights to Leiweke’s future.

His personal services contract at AEG is up. He could be president (with a small ownership stake) of this pretend L.A. NFL franchise. Can you pretend to make it happen?

We’ll also give you first shot at bucking up Leiweke’s very sad Wikipedia page (linked here).

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The Media Learning Curve: Feb. 4-18

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A red carpeted-quick catchup for the last two weeks of media notes, following today’s column (linked here), and hoping this ends without some sort of security check:

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== We can appreciate the sentiments of FoxSports.com’s Brian Lowry (linked here) about the extreme overkill involved in coverage, not just by TNT (and its 19 scheduled hours) but also ESPN and NBA TV on this weekend’s NBA All-Star Game, which includes festivities tonight and Saturday leading to Sunday’s exhibition.

He’s taken the paragraphs right out of our computer, without sounding like a burned-out TV watcher.

Lowry adds about TNT’s Kenny Smith “coaching” the Clippers’ Blake Griffin for the dunk contest, which we featured in today’s column: “The tradeoff, or price, for all this lavish coverage is that the host networks wind up insinuating themselves into the events … Having watched Griffin play some this year, let me assure you, the one thing he doesn’t need is advice on how to dunk.”

Lowry concluded:

“No doubt All-Star Weekend will yield a few high-flying highlights. But in terms of TNT’s cornucopia of coverage, the net effect might be simply to lose sight of the actual game amid the glare of all those lights.”

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== Following up to comments that ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser made about Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s suspect pole position in Sunday’s Daytona 500, and the reaction that came from Fox’s Darrell Waltrip (and mentioned in today’s “What Chokes” section), we also should mention that we have these conference call comments by ESPN/NASCAR related people who’ll also be covering the event this weekend:

=ESPN vice president of motorsports Rich Feinberg: “I did not see the show, but it’s been relayed to me what he said. It’s a show of opinion, and it’s primarily based on his and Michael’s (Wilbon) opinion … I disagree with what I was told he said. And I can tell you for sure that ESPN doesn’t agree with his opinion yesterday, but that’s the nature of commentary.”

=ESPN analyst Dale Jarrett: “It wouldn’t matter who said it or what network it might have been on, but it pisses me off that somebody thinks that from being inside, and knowing how hard a lot of years that myself and a lot of others that I worked with and around, worked on our race cars to try and make them the best. …. Did NASCAR plan that? Why hell no. … It aggravates you that that perception is out there. I can assure everyone that it can’t happen. … We have a very good sport with a lot of integrity out there and to have it questioned is unfortunate.”

=ESPN analyst Andy Petree: “We’re hearing opinions of people who really have no idea. … I can tell you I’ve never, ever in my life seen anybody get the call to have something done to their car. The integrity of this sport, I can vouch for after 30 years of doing it.”

== Fox will introduce something called a “Thermal-Cam” during its Daytona 500 coverage Sunday, a special camera designed to register the heat of objects that in the line of a driver’s sight. Fox says it plans to use the camera during the race to show how extreme temperatures develop during a typical race, especially as cars running in the rear get behind air flow while drafting and must switch places with the lead car to avoid overheating. The camera comes from FLIR, a Boston-based thermal imaging and stabllized camera system.

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== While CBS has the third and scheduled final rounds of the PGA’s Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club, Golf Channel’s coverage includes coming on with live coverage Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., then replaying CBS’ coverage later that night from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Terry Gannon is the lead play-by-play with analysts Brandel Chamblee, Peter Oosterhuis, David Feherty, Billy Andrade and Craig Perks.

== Golf Channel says it will take its “Big Break” series to Indian Wells for its 15th season in May, with 11 men competing for a sponsor’s exemption in a 2012 PGA Tour event. The 10-episode contest was filmed at Indian Wells Golf Resort in January.

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== The MLB Network announced plans to televise 83 spring training games, starting Feb. 26 (linked here), and will again do its “30 Clubs in 30 Days” features, hitting the Dodgers (March 6) and Angels (March 10) in Arizona.

== Fox’s 2011 MLB schedule includes three Saturday nights in a row of regionalized coverage, starting May 14 with a Red Sox-Yankees matchup and finishing on May 28 with six games, the most games that the network has ever offered in one window (one of those games is the Angels at Minnesota). Last year, Fox had two Saturday prime-time telecasts and saw a boost of more than 40 percent over similiar games held in the traditional afternoon spots.

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Fox’s opener is Saturday, April 2 (two days after ESPN opens on Thursday), taking the Dodgers’ home game against San Francisco as one of three regional games. The Giants have nine scheduled appearances this season, along with Atlanta, the Chicago Cubs, Detroit, the New York Mets, Philadelphia and St. Louis. The Dodgers are scheduled for seven dates, the Angels six — including a meeting with each other on June 25 from Dodger Stadium.

== ESPN has added former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, who spend the first two years of the MLB Network as a studio analyst, to its “Baseball Tonight” team.

== Any interest in what Jay Mariotti has to say about his lack of work these days (linked here)?

== NBC/Versus has nine hours of coverage during the first “Hockey Day in America” promotion Sunday, starting with a half-hour special (9 a.m., Channel 4) that is followed up by Philadelphia-N.Y. Rangers and Pittsburgh-Chicago, and is capped over on Versus with the NHL Heritage Classic at 3 p.m., an outdoor game between Montreal and Calgary from McMahon Stadium on the University of Calgary campus, called by Dave Strader, Andy Brickley and Brian Engblom.

Part of the half-hour special leading in a feature on a celebrity hockey league that takes place most Sunday nights at the Kings’ El Segundo facility played by actors, music label exec and TV and movie producers (like Jerry Bruckheimer) with a passion for the game.

NBC producer Sam Flood, on the origin of Hockey Day in America: “The genesis for this comes through Hockey Day in Canada and just watching what has been done in Canada through the years and their passion they have for that sport. I was up in Canada for the Olympics last year and saw Hockey Day in Canada on CBC and had been thinking for a while about a way to celebrate hockey in a bigger and better way in the United States…It has been a thought of mine for a couple of years now doing something bigger with hockey and celebrating it.

“(Just look at how) these parents across the country who get in their car at 6 am, pull their little tikes out of bed, throw them in the back seat and drive them to the rink so they get to be part of the greatest game in the world. And that’s what we’re going to celebrate — the hockey moms and the hockey dads who sacrifice so much to get their kids out to the rink. It’s the ritual of hockey.”

== Eight-month-old ESPN 3D, which will carry its first boxing matches tonight when it airs Friday Night Fights (6 p.m.), apparently has enough content to start streaming a 24/7 menu of events.

“As we continue to expand the number of 3D events on the channel, it made sense operationally to transition ESPN 3D to a 24-7 network,” ESPN’s Sean Bratches said during last month’s Consumer Electronics Show.

ESPN 3D is on Comcast, Time Warner Cable and DirecTV.

== CBS will rebrand its College Sports Network cable channel into the CBS Sports Network starting April 4. It says the focus will stay on college sports, but this allows for future expansion of what it will be willing to add to it, said Sean McManus, recently named the Chairman of CBS Sports. CBS bought CSTV in Jan., 2006, and rebranded it CBS College Sports Network in Feb., 2008. It is available in about 40 million homes, but will not be included in the upcoming CBS/TNT marriage of the men’s NCAA basketball tournament starting next month.

AND FINALLY:

== Does talking about sports beat watching it?

Jeff Pearlman, in the Wall Street Journal, talks about this idea (linked here):

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“No event better illustrates this than the annual NBA Slam Dunk Contest, which will be held in Los Angeles on Saturday. Ever since the modern version of the competition began in 1984, it has served as one of the NBA’s great conversation pieces. Dominique Wilkins vs. Michael Jordan. Tiny Spud Webb. Blindfolded Cedric Ceballos. Nate Robinson scaling Dwight Howard. The list of highlights is endless, and the slow-motion footage (especially when accompanied by music) makes for great promotional material.

“There’s just one problem: In person, the Slam Dunk Contest is boring. Really boring.

“‘If you’re lucky, there’ll be three memorable dunks all night,’ says Ben Osborne, the editor of Slam Magazine. ‘But there might be one, and sometimes there are zero. I’ve been to seven or eight contests, and with the exception of Vince Carter [in 2000], they’ve all been painful.’

“Mr. Osborne pauses, thinking about his readership. But they’re compelling to talk about,’ he says. ‘And the talk itself is half the fun’.”

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Kenny Smith, on Blake Griffin’s expected dunk: ‘Absolutely, it’s never been done’

Kenny Smith’s designation as “coach” to the Clippers’ Blake Griffin for Saturday’s NBA dunk contest at Staples Center (5 p.m., TNT) comes with some trepidation.

“I just have to make sure I don’t mess things up,” the TNT analyst admitted from his home in Tarzana.

During his 10-year NBA career, Smith competed in three mid-season televised dunk exhibitions. The closest that the 6-foot-3 point guard out of the streetball courts of Queens, N.Y. came to winning was coming less than two points away on the judges cards from defeating perennial champ Dominique Wilkins in 1990 (see video above).

The dunk that nearly won it for Smith involved standing at the free-throw line with his back to the rim, bouncing the ball between his legs so that it hit the backboard, turning around, timing a leap to catch the ball off the glass, twisting around and pulling off a reverse slam.

Now, the master meets the rookie.

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“I wanted to give him some ideas to see if he could put a new twist on them,” Smith said about meeting already with Griffin. “All of the sudden, we came up with a dunk that’s never been seen before. If he pulls this one off, it’ll put dunking into another stratosphere.”

Without giving anything away, will Griffin’s dunk will be prop-heavy, or just based on his athletic abilities?

“It’s a combination of everything you could imagine,” Smith said. “Absolutely, it’s never been done. Only an incredible athlete like him could fathom even trying it.”

OK, you’ve got our attention.

As for those who think that the wear-and-tear of dunking may cut down on Griffin’s long-term ability to play in the NBA, Smith uses one of his former teammates as example.

“Did it hurt Dominique?” Smith asked, referring to Wilkins’ 26,668 career points (currently 11th in league history) over 15 seasons in the league (including a stint with the Clippers) and not returing until he was 39.

“Dunking isn’t going to hurt him. What it does it force people to watch him and then assess his acutal game. Dunk contests are more about bringing people in to see your game and skill level. You can’t say Blake is just a dunker. When he scored 47 points (last month in a win over Indiana), he only had six dunks. The one thing you have to understand is he’s a very talented player. You don’t make an All-Star game as a rookie just being a dunker. His overall skills outshine his dunks when all is said and done. He has special skills.”

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Smith will host two charity events related to All-Star weekend, starting with his ninth annual bash Friday (9 p.m. to 2 a.m.) at the Music Box on Hollywood Blvd. to benefit his charity, The Aim High Foundation. On Saturday (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) he has a fan fest at Paramount Studios on Melrose that includes invited 2,500 kids from various youth groups to live entertainment and clinics.

“Every year, there are so many expensive events during the weekend, and many people can’t get to them all, and some are pretty exclusive, so I want to make sure my friends have a good time,” Smith said.

Smith will be a studio analyst for TNT’s coverage of the Rookie Challenge game (Friday, 6 p.m.) and the NBA All-Star Game (Sunday at 5:30 p.m., starting with a pregame show at 4 p.m.).

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