Beyond the Boxscore
The life of a basketball groupie at the NBA Finals: The Mavs aren't the onlyones hounding LeBron
DALLAS — She flew into town on little more than high hopes and the prayer of sexy boots. Well, that and a $152 one-way Southwest fare.
Because when you're a basketball groupie, life's an open ticket of endless possibilities. It's also expensive enough — she ended up having to fork over more than $500 to a scalper for her lower bowl ticket to Game 4 of the NBA Finals — that the upfront costs must be minimized.
So no roundtrip fares.
"You never know when you'll meet a nice guy who will fly you somewhere," she smiles.
She's leggy and tanned, and within five minutes of meeting a stranger she's proudly telling him, "I'm 100 percent natural, except for my nose."
Her name is Galileo. Or at least, the name she gives the players is Galileo. Most basketball groupies have a name for the players that only bears a passing resemblance to their real name. Few are as creative as Galileo's though.
"A lot of guys will say it's a boy's name," she says. "But they never forget it."
A basketball groupie's biggest fear is blending into a crowd. Being looked over ruins the game.
Galileo doesn't get looked over in the stands at the American Airlines Center. Within minutes of her taking her single seat, a father and an adult son who are there to cheer on the Mavs are lightly flirting with her. As she tells them more of her story, it starts veering from flirting to come-ons.
"I'm sorry if my dad's bothering you," the son says during halftime when dad's off getting a drink.
"It's no problem," Galileo says. "He's just being a friendly. I like friendly people." Then, the son asks if she'd like to meet him at a club later. He knows the perfect spot.
Getting noticed by other fans in the stands is not the basketball groupie end game though. Having other guys hanging around, however hound dogged and dutiful they are, can be a liability when you're trying to attract a player. Galileo will shed the overeager dad and son by the time the final buzzer sounds.
All professional sports tend to draw groupies these days — largely young women who will do anything to get close to the athletes. But the groupie's place in the NBA is a little more enhanced, a lot more noticed. Magazines like GQ write profiles on them. Basketball Wives sometimesfeatures them on the show, if only to up the drama.
At NBA All-Star Games, they are almost their own special interest group. An entire hotel is usually set aside for them (unofficially of course). Yes, you can book the groupie hotel.
In recent years, NBA Finals have not typically been as groupie heavy — at least, not in an over-the-top manner. The 2011 Finals are different though. The Miami Heat of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the IT team of the sports moment, are here in Dallas, a city where excess is still celebrated.
It's a combination made in groupie heaven. Or hell. Depending on how you end up dealing with the influx.
"There are a lot more women hanging around the hotels who aren't working girls per se but who could be mistaken for working girls with the way they dress and what their intentions are," said a concierge at a hotel near the Heat's team hotel who asked not to be identified. "It's not quite at the same level that it was on the rare night that the Bulls of Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman would come into town. That was crazier. You had guys who just wanted to be close to them too.
"But it's not far from the days of the Kobe (Bryant) and Shaq Lakers. It might even be more frenzied. There are a lot of women milling around looking to get noticed."
It turns out that LeBron and D-Wade haven't just sent the NBA's TV ratings skyrocketing. They've also restored the league's groupie glory days. This is "Where Amazing Happens."
Fan or Stalker?
Galileo would take exception to that concierge's description of a typical groupie's dress. Indeed, on game night in Dallas, she wears a dress that almost reaches her knees and she isn't showing much cleavage. Her "sexy (short) cowboy boots" are the only noticeable attention-grabbers.
"You have to dress classy," she says. "Or you're just another ho. You have to look nice."
Galileo doesn't even like the term groupie. She prefers "appreciative female fan."
"I'm really just a huge basketball fan," she says. "I know the game. I could give the players tips on the game, understand what they're going through. That's why I like to hang out with them as much as anything."
Galileo clearly loves LeBron. Though it's very unclear if she's ever actually even met him, even in passing (I'd bet no). She's from Miami, which she says has given her "opportunities" to meet "some players." She was driven enough to spend her own money to fly to Dallas and get into the arena.
So what's it like watching a Finals game with a basketball groupie ... er, Appreciative Female Fan (AFF)? A lot like watching with anyone else, except you hear "baby" much more than you do at any neighborhood sports bar.
"Come on baby, get it going!" Galileo screams as James heads into the fourth quarter of Game 4 with only eight points. "Yeah, baby!" Galileo shrieks when Wade breaks into the open court for a slam. Chris Bosh also draws enthusiastic cheers from Galileo, but no "baby" shouts.
No one else on the Heat roster gets more than a polite clap from her. Apparently, you have to be part of the Big Three to warrant attention, with "baby" reserved for future Hall of Famers.
She really is into basketball — and texting and Facebooking. During the time, I spend with her at the game, she texts with an Anthony Weiner zeal. Then, when the final buzzer sounds on Game 4, with her team, her babies, losers, she sits in the stands as everyone else files out of the arena into a steamy night.
"I have to wait," she says.
Forty minutes later, she still sits there patiently, the only one left in her section. Her eyes are locked on her smartphone. No one's called on her yet.