James Goldstein: How a fashion cowboy seduced the NBA

Editor’s Note: For updates, stories, video and features about the NBA playoffs, go to cnn.com/nba

Story highlights

Superfan Goldstein attends over 100 games a year

He sits courtside for both the Lakers and Clippers

Goldstein sports his own fashion line at games

Friends with NBA stars LeBron James and Stephen Curry

Los Angeles CNN  — 

If you happen to be on a flight squeezing into an economy seat between now and June, don’t be alarmed to see a man dressed in snakeskin walking down the aisle with the sports page in his hand.

That’s just James Goldstein on his way to another NBA game.

Basketball’s number one superfan just embarked on his annual playoff pilgrimage, encompassing a whopping 16 games in two weeks.

Stops include Oakland, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Memphis, Portland, and finally Los Angeles, where he lives high above the city in the most tasteful – and architecturally iconic – bachelor pad in town.

NBA playoffs

  • For updates, stories, video and features about the NBA playoffs go to cnn.com/nba

    A courtside season ticket holder for both the Lakers and Clippers, Goldstein’s game day routine starts with a one-hour drive through the traffic-snarled Sunset Strip from his Beverly Hills mansion, known as the Sheats Goldstein Residence.

    To arrive at the Staples Center in time to mingle with the likes of LeBron James, Steph Curry and Dwayne Wade during warmups, Goldstein must hop into his 1961 Rolls Royce convertible – the only car he’s owned for the past 45 years – by 6pm.

    Once the action starts, “Jimmy”, as he’s known to his friends, is a quiet sideline fixture decked out in exotic leathers and custom-designed hats – usually beside a leggy model of European standing.

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    Python skin jacket

    Suffice to say, the man doesn’t mind sticking out in a crowd.

    “Anything that’s unique that I see that hasn’t been done before attracts me,” Goldstein tells CNN.

    He’s sitting in his widely photographed living room, part of the John Lautner-designed concrete, steel and wood masterpiece which has been featured in dozens of coffee table books, as well as movies such as “The Big Lebowski,” and “Charlie’s Angels,” and a Snoop Dogg music video.

    There’s even been some soft-core porn shot there, although “none that involved males,” Goldstein hastens to add.

    Not that Goldstein’s only interested in basketball and design.

    “I always loved fashion, and when I got a little older I continued to look for unique pieces of clothing,” says Goldstein, who is dressed in a red $20,000 python skin jacket, a prototype from his fashion line James Goldstein Couture.

    “It was a way of setting me apart, and it was something I felt I looked great in, so that’s the direction I took.”

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    It would be natural to think that Goldstein would be one to splash out on private jets – an assumption that any one of his 51,000 Instagram followers would make – but he’s not afraid to mix it with the masses in cattle class.

    “It’s not really a big deal,” says the man who made his fortune in real estate, though details are scarce. “After spending so much money getting courtside seats, I just owe it to myself to scrimp somewhere.”

    Club James

    Goldstein lives in what is literally a museum piece – the house and all its contents will be left to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it was recently announced – but he’s not the neurotic homeowner you’d expect him to be. If anything, he’s rather chilled-out, and his hosting skills are legendary.

    Houseguests flow in and out of the Sheats Goldstein Residence with ease (including, on the morning of the interview, one young Russian model in pajamas eating Corn Flakes, and another who had just finished a jog) – and that was before the recent completion of Club James, his personal on-premises nightspot which makes the bars on Sunset look quaint.

    Last year’s splashy opening was an impromptu birthday bash for Rihanna.

    While at a game, Goldstein took a call asking if he could host the party. A few hours later the singer showed up with Jay Z, Beyoncé, Mick Jagger and Paris Hilton in tow. “It was an amazing party,” he says. “I could see some (NBA players) having parties here.”

    “He’s so generous, opening up his home to all these benefits and charities. It speaks to the heart that he has,” says Los Angeles real estate developer Steve Jones, who has attended two events at the estate.

    “I think he also had such respect for John Lautner and his vision, and so he was the perfect guy (to buy the property in 1972),” Jones adds.

    “He understands that to a certain degree the home belongs to Los Angeles, and he’s like this steward. He happened to buy it, but he spent ungodly amounts of money restoring it and maintaining it.”

    “I paid roughly $185,000 for the house, which is now my monthly bill for all the construction that I am doing,” says Goldstein, who is adding a full-scale dining room and infinity pool as extensions to Club James.

    Goldstein is still tinkering with acoustics so as not to disturb residents down the hill who are on different sleeping patterns: “It’s a real problem in LA, because all it takes is one neighbor to make a phone call and the police come.”

    LACMA, meanwhile, has conservatively valued the house at $40 million – not counting Goldstein’s wardrobe and the vintage Rolls.

    A $75,000 accident

    Considering the house is entirely clutter free and in constant use for photo shoots, it’s amazing that Goldstein does not employ live-in help, just a cleaner who swings by a few times a week.

    Mistakes happen though. A model once dropped a bottle of perfume which shattered one of the glass terraces. “A $75,000 accident,” Goldstein chuckles.

    Another surprise: Goldstein does not drink alcohol or coffee, which perhaps explains how a man who is ambiguously in his mid-seventies can party until 3am, wake up five hours later, and rally for his morning tennis session with hitting coach Tony Graham.

    A former member of Stanford’s freshman tennis team, Goldstein has been swinging a racket since he grew up in Milwaukee. His serve, however, deserted him in 1995 after a bad accident in London.

    Rushing to an exhibition game featuring the Houston Rockets, Goldstein asked the cabbie to stop outside the Lloyds of London building. While looking for a good photo angle, he ventured off the sidewalk and was struck by a driver who wasn’t looking.

    “I have no memory of it, but I got hit from behind, flew up in the air and landed on top of the car from what I’m told,” he says, “and I survived.”


    Goldstein’s love of hoops might have been indirectly responsible for a broken leg in two places, a broken shoulder and broken ribs – but in return it has fueled his zest for life.

    “I think that basketball is a big part of (his energy source),” says Graham, who has known Goldstein for 25 years and acts as his house sitter for a third of the year. “He always says when the NBA season is over he goes through a massive decompression.”

    Goldstein’s website is divided into subsections of basketball, architecture and fashion, and that about sums up his life – though tennis is also in the mix.

    He built an “infinity tennis court” above Club James, which offers dramatic views of the Los Angeles skyline stretching to the Pacific Ocean. It served as the backdrop for a recent Maria Sharapova ad, shortly before her doping controversy erupted.

    “She didn’t say one word about whether she liked the court,” Goldstein laments, before adding that she didn’t seem altogether happy at that moment.

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    The court took over a neighboring plot where another Lautner house once stood, which would startle preservationists before hearing Goldstein out.

    “I acquired it and Lautner was very happy to have it torn down,” he explains “Because it wasn’t up to his standards, and he wasn’t proud of it. I had no need for two houses and wanted to put this to a different use.

    “He had no ego problems, unlike other star architects,” Goldstein says of the Frank Lloyd Wright disciple who he worked closely with to modernize the house until Lautner’s death in 1994.

    “He never imposed his will on me. He always waited to hear my ideas. And at the same time he was rebellious, sort of like me.”

    The first thing Goldstein did upon moving in was install a basketball hoop in the same spot where Snoop and Pharrell Williams played pickup games during their “Let’s Get Blown” video.

    Goldstein considers Snoop a friend, along with “King James,” who he met while still in high school, not to mention Curry, who shot a commercial at his house, and, oddly, Metta World Peace (“Ron Artest, as I still like to call him”).

    Goldstein’s house is decorated with photos of him embracing nearly every NBA star, save for Kobe Bryant who, until recently, held a grudge against him for not being a Lakers fan. (Goldstein roots for nearly every other NBA team, especially the Spurs.)

    But his closest friend to wear the purple and gold was Wilt Chamberlain. The two would carouse around Hollywood during the seven-footer’s tenure with the Lakers that lasted until 1973: “It was funny because he always liked the short girls, and I always liked the tall girls.”

    And Wilt’s famous claim of bedding 20,000 partners? Real or fabricated?

    “I think that was exaggerated,” says Goldstein.

    One thing that can’t be possibly be overstated, though, is Goldstein’s love of all things basketball and beauty. So what would the fabled walls of the Sheats Goldstein residence say if they could talk?

    Goldstein takes a long pause and considers the question.

    “They would say that I wasn’t afraid of being different.”

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