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HOMESICK TICKETS OR A MASERATI? TOUGH CALL SEATS: SOME FANS SPENDING THOUSANDS FOR CHOICE SPOTS INSIDE STAPLES CENTER.

Byline: Dana Bartholomew

Staff Writer

For Sale: A pair of courtside seats just a free throw from Jack Nicholson to see the Lakers battle the Celtics in a Father's Day blowout this town has never seen.

Cost: $112,000 -- or $56,000 each; you must buy two.

Hoopla over the NBA Finals has pushed ticket prices to record heights that make even the most seasoned promoters dizzy.

"I've seen nothing like this in the nine years since we've opened," said Lee Zeidman, general manager for the Staples Center arena, home of the Lakers.

"Because of the history of these two teams ... the demand is phenomenal."

As many as 20 fans a day are plunking down up to $18,000 for a premier seat season package for the right to see the Lakers championship, he said, with three times more premier seats sold than last year.

Ticket brokers with decades worth of stubs say they've never seen a series so hot as this year's Green Machine against the Purple- and-Gold Court Press.

Not even Super Bowl tickets, which can sell for $10,000, can compare.

"Gimme a break," said John Benzinger, 47, of Essex County, N.J., a Lakers fan disillusioned after cruising Craigslist.com and online ticket brokers for NBA Finals tickets.

"The prices are totally ridiculous. This isn't the Super Bowl. This is worse than Super Bowl prices."

Prices are so high on the secondary market that Benzinger said he'll likely gamble at buying a cheaper ticket from a seller in front of Staples Center.

Historic rivalry

Brokers attributed the popularity of this year's championship bout to a storied Boston- L.A. rivalry of 11 NBA Finals contests since 1959 -- of which the Celtics have won eight.

At numerous online brokers such as Stubhub.com, prices for Tuesday's or Thursday's Lakers home games have listed from $400 for nosebleed seats at the top of the arena to $29,000 courtside, with a great midcourt seat commanding $7,000.

Brokers say the prices to get into a potential Game5 Father's Day contest Sunday are expected to run even higher -- especially if the Lakers lead.

The two seats next to the Lakers bench that listed for $56,000 each -- minimum two -- were posted on Ticketturbo.com, with other sites selling them for slightly less.

"The prices are unprecedented," said Brad Schy, owner of Musical Chairs Ticket Service in Brentwood.

"The prices are double than what we've seen, from 50 percent to 100 percent higher. The demand is vigorous, and it's not letting up.

"It's the Lakers-Celtics, the classic of all classics."

But courtside seats now listing from $30,000 to $56,000 have astonished even veterans of the ticket business.

A skybox with 44 seats sells for $50,000.

By comparison, floor seats in Boston cost between $8,000 and $9,000, brokers reported, but without the Hollywood stars.

"I've never seen them this expensive, and I've been in this business for 29 years," said Don Vaccaro, CEO of Ticketnetwork.com, whose inventory includes $1billion in tickets for 71,000 events worldwide. "This is definitely a marquee matchup.

"There might be somebody who says money is no object, who wants to be seen next to celebrities."

Father's Day gift

But some say that paying a list price of $112,000 for two courtside tickets for an NBA Finals game is nothing short of immoral.

Just consider what a Father's Day gift at the listed price could get the bling crowd. Dad could be the proud recipient of a 2008 Maserati Quattroporte.

Or a two-bedroom bungalow in Playacar, Belize.

Or even a 106-night luxury world cruise for two on a Crystal Cruises ship.

"It's crazy," said Jimmy, a co-owner of All Access Tickets in Beverly Hills who declined to give his last name. "The amount of money people are paying is outrageous, especially during a recession.

"Moral people won't spend it. The old school people won't spend it. The new-money people will."

A Lakers loss leading into this week's home games, however, could send some air out of the big ticket whoopee cushion.

And not every ticket will sell for its listed price.

But if the Lakers are hot, conditions may be a slam dunk for record ticket sales.

Before the first game in Boston, Harry Rosner, founder of VIP Tickets in Encino in 1981, had already sold two $25,000 courtside tickets.

"This year, the market for the Finals is poised higher than (any) Finals I've ever seen," said Rosner, who helped found the National Association of Ticket Brokers, an industry trade group.

"If the Lakers are up 3-1, the Father's Day game could possibly be the biggest-selling game of all time."

dana.bartholomew(at)dailynews.com

818-713-3730

THE BREAKDOWN

Game 2

WHAT HAPPENED: The Lakers trailed by 24 points in the fourth quarter before a sensational rally made it a two-point game in the final minute. Boston's Paul Pierce then made two free throws and blocked a shot as the Celtics held on. They're up 2-0 in the best-of-7 series.

TURNING POINT: The Lakers were ahead late in the first quarter before Kobe Bryant was called for a questionable second foul and went to the bench, and Boston began an 18-7 run.

MORE KOBE: The Lakers' star took a long time to get his game going but wound up leading both teams with 30 points.

NEXT: NBA Finals move to Staples Center for Game 3 Tuesday. Lakers really need to win all three here and then find a way to win in Boston.

EXPANDED COVERAGE IN SPORTS

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, box, map

Photo:

(1 -- color) Kobe Bryant and the Lakers are now down 0-2 in the best-of-7 NBA Finals series, after falling to the Celtics on Sunday night. L.A. needs four wins for the title.

Elsa/Getty Images

(2 -- color) no caption (Lakers ticket)

Box:

THE BREAKDOWN (see text)

Map:

Parking downtown

Staples Center

Gregg Miller/Staff Artist
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 9, 2008
Words:990
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