The Social Science Of Celebrities Attending Basketball Games

Photo: Bob Levey / Stringer / Getty
Do you love basketball? Have you ever been to a basketball game? Unless you’re a diehard fan of the sport, you may have answered yes to only one of those questions. I only know two NHL teams by name. But I have been dying to go to a professional hockey game. I can’t tell you the first thing about football, but in high school my friends and I would actually purchase new outfits for games because they were the place to see and be seen. This is true at every level of sports — from inner-city high school leagues to the NBA All-Star Game — and for every echelon of society.
Earlier this week, Kylie Jenner was spotted courtside with rapper Travis $cott at an NBA playoff game in Houston. The outing fanned rumors of the two being a couple. Our very own Carolyn Todd covered the news and briefly touched on why this particular kind of public sighting has become a rite of passage for celebrity couples. I have an answer. It’s science… social science, that is.
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Let’s first consider the ecosystem of an NBA event. Professional basketball games have built a special bond with pop culture for one reason in particular: courtside seats. If box seats come with the same amount of perceived prestige as flying business class, then floor seats are the equivalent of taking a private jet. Their exclusivity signifies a certain level of wealth and importance for those who occupy them. Since athletes are often celebrities, you can be trusted not to lose your shit at the sight of them because you’re a celebrity, too. In fact, there’s a chance that the players on the court are your friends and family. How often do you see figures like Jay Z and Drake chit chatting with ball players on the court after a game?
There is also the guaranteed visibility. Camera crews and photographers capture the movements of these high-profile guests in addition to what’s happening on the court. An NBA game is not the place you want to go if you’re trying to stay incognito. Sure, celebrities might want to enjoy the game, but they recognize that they’re also playing the publicity game while doing so.
So how exactly can celebrities put this to use? Obviously, Kylie is suggesting that a new relationship is budding. What about for more seasoned couples? As a duo particularly susceptible to divorce rumors, Beyoncé and Jay Z often show up as a united front to watch a game from the front row. Rapper Gucci Mane proposed to his longtime girlfriend Keyshia at an Atlanta Hawks event.
And on the completely opposite end of the spectrum, celebrities can also use NBA games to show that they’re single and ready to mingle. Rihanna flirtatiously heckled Nick Young during a Lakers game with her best friend Melissa Forde. At other times, attending a game together is simply an act of camaraderie and friendship, like Jay Z and Kendrick Lamar’s bromance at the Clippers game last year.
So while it may not mean what you think it does when you see celebrities together at basketball games, it never means nothing at all.
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