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Tuesday, February 17, 2004
Adding more Vs to the VIP

By Rob Ryder
Page 3 columnist

It's Friday the 13th, almost midnight, NBA All-Star Weekend, and things are looking dicey.

I'm alone behind the wheel of my wife's little white minivan, stuck between a gigantic black Hummer and a looming black Escalade (whose rims alone could finance four years at USC). Santa Monica Boulevard is all jammed up, everybody trying to make the right turn onto Formosa where the valet parkers scramble to handle the onslaught.

This is the Reebok party, hosted by New Orleans Hornets guard Baron Davis, and the word is out -- this is the place to be, the old Warner Lot in Hollywood.

I'm frazzled. Working on three hours sleep. I was up way late last night at the Chocolate Sundaes comedy-dance party at the Avalon (Chris Spencer and Pookey Wigington's party).

An impressive entrepreneurial effort. They'd managed to attract Serena Williams, Larenz Tate, Tommy Davidson, and Ludacris. They charged 30 bucks a head, providing a chance for all those people who don't know the right people to still go to a big All-Star party.

Some paid 60 bucks for the VIP ticket which got you a blue wristband that entitled you to wave it around letting everyone know you were a Very Important Person, but not much else.

Rob Ryder, Dennis Rodman
Rob Ryder and Dennis Rodman back in the day before the war on The Worm began.
Me, I got the yellow wristband, care of Rasha and Maya (Pookey's "slaves," as they refer to themselves) that identified me as a VVIP (Very Very Important Person) and entitled me to some chicken wings, carrots and celery in a private room upstairs.

No free drinks at this party. These guys were looking to make some money while showing the salt of the earth a real good time, and you can't help but admire that... it's the American way.

But tonight, this is different. This is Reebok. This is a multi-billion dollar corporation doing the serious bling-bling ka-ching thing.

You don't pay somebody to get into this party. You are somebody.

We inch forward in traffic. At this rate I'm gonna arrive just in time to say goodnight. I see a break to my right, gun the van and end up over on LaBrea -- plenty of empty meters. I jump out, lock up and stride toward "The Lot".

It's chaos out front. A swelling crowd of twenty-somethings dressed to the nines, clamoring to get in. Still others streaming out of the Hummers, Escalades and several ridiculous 30-foot-long SUV limos that look right out of Mel Brooks' "Spaceballs."

I pick up my pace, putting on my gate-crashing game face.

There's a trio of security guards stopping people who've shared my bright idea -- a flanking action from a side street.

I don't try to duck them, instead heading for the biggest guy.

"Where's Andy!?" I shout.

"Say what!?" he barks as he moves to block my path. "You can't..."

"You don't know? Jesus!" I feint right, then cut left and power past him.

"Hey!" he yells.

"I'll let him know where to find you!" I shout over my shoulder. "Just stay right here!"

He hesitates, looks confused.

Remember when Gene Hackman shook down that petty drug dealer in "The French Connection"?

"Do you pick your toes in Poughkeepsie?!" He kept shouting. "You do, don'cha? You pick your toes in Poughkeepsie!" Until the guy just broke down out of sheer confusion.

Same idea.

There's a long bulging line of anxious party-goers waiting to get checked through by three attractive women wearing headsets and sharp suits and sporting those all-important guest list clipboards.

I slip up behind one. "I'm looking for Andy Gelb. PMK? He said to meet him here but there's no way." She looks me up and down.

She considers, then slips me a playing card - the King of Clubs, and I feel (but don't show) a flush of relief and the Jesse Jackson mantra comes to mind:

"I am!"

"I am!"



The sound stage is huge -- dark and bright -- a grid of swirling disco lights hanging from the towering ceiling. The music, deafening. The bass line, microwaving my internal organs.

Damon Wayans
Was it the "Celtic Pride" that came between Rob Ryder and Damon Wayans?
A pretty girl with a tray of colorful vodka cocktails dances over and offers up. I take a couple gulps and survey the scene.

The enormous space is filling fast. There's the glare of television lights - several camera crews working the room. A dancer on stilts - an easy 12 feet tall. Photographers everywhere. Waiters swirling about with all sorts of canapés and hors-d'oeuvres.

Four full bars strategically located. Free drinks. Quality liquor.

I spot Dennis Rodman across the room and my lip curls. Rodman worked on "Eddie" for a couple of days back in North Carolina, and he was incredibly insulting to me, and I'm still pissed about it, but I decide to let it go (for the moment).

I turn and spot John Salley and work my way over to say hello. He's smoking a long cigar and laughing and flipping people off and being the general all-around good guy John Salley is.

A sudden commotion -- LeBron James makes his entrance, surrounded by his agents, Aaron and Eric Goodwin, and a whole bunch of others who have his (and their own) best interest at heart.

I decide not to approach the Goodwins tonight, even though Eric's read and "got" my college basketball movie, "94 Feet." Another time.

I hug Salley goodbye, work my way to another bar, grab another cocktail, then plop myself down in a plush armchair in a far corner.

There's a mixed crowd sitting around on sofas, armchairs. An older black couple. A few hip-hop artists. Two scantily clad white girls with dollar signs in their eyes.

Another commotion. Baron Davis makes his entrance -- looking sharp in a suit and silk shirt.

I know Baron a bit from his UCLA days. And just a couple weeks back, I was in touch with his young agent (and former teammate) Todd Ramasar, about Baron being in "94 Feet."

Todd and another teammate, Rico Hines, have put in place a smart business plan for a boutique sports agency anchored by Davis.

Baron works his way through the crowd, laughing, hugging, shouting hellos.

I sit tight as it slowly dawns on me -- I'm in a power corner. Some impressive, all-business security types suddenly show up with portable posts and velvet ropes and begin roping off the corner.

My corner. I'm on the inside. Now this is a first. By sheer luck, I'm suddenly a VVVIP.

And finally, there he is, stepping through the ropes, Baron Davis, offering me a big smile, a hearty hug. Baron shouts that he's heard about the movie, wants to discuss it when the time is right.

This is good news. See, Baron Davis is not just another baller looking to dabble in Hollywood. He's established a true film company, with seasoned partners and lines of financing and distribution.

I'm making a backdoor play. "Hey, Baron, wanna be in my college hoops movie? Yeah, cool. And by the way, how about financing the thing while you're at it?" (Actually, his presence alone will garner serious interest.)

Baron moves off. It's time to step out beyond the velvet ropes.

The place is jammed by now - dance floor filled with writhing bodies. Beautiful women, goodlooking guys -- bumping and grinding to Missy Elliot and OutKast.

Suddenly, four gymnasts come flying down from the rafters on bungee cords. The crowd freaks as the gymnasts nearly splat on the floor before bouncing back up into the air where they go into a series of flips and spins in sync with the throbbing music.

People are laughing and shaking their heads and you can just hear them saying, "Crazy people... we're trying to dance here!"

I spot actor Duane Martin talking with Damon Wayans and I head their way. These two are married to the same woman, Tisha Campbell. How's that? Duane in real life. Damon in the TV show, "My Wife and Kids."

Duane Martin
Actor Duane Martin made for good conversation and future possibilities.
I can just imagine what they're talking about:

"You know what really gets me? When she starts bitchin' about the toilet seat..."

"I hear you, man."

I know Duane Martin from the Hollywood Y and "White Men Can't Jump." He came out of Brooklyn and was a real baller. He has done well for himself, a string of movie and TV roles, and now he's starring in the UPN comedy, "All of Us" which is produced by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith.

Damon Wayans I know from "Celtic Pride". The producers tried to hire me as the basketball advisor but I'd already committed to "Eddie" so I offered up the services of my brother-in-crime Kevin (K.B.) Benton.

(What are the odds of two crappy basketball movies being made at the same time? Pretty good, given the ways of Hollywood.)

Anyway, "Eddie" had wrapped and I was back home in L.A. when I got a call from Boston. It was the line producer. They were looking for additional help with their big basketball finale. After much pressing, he assured me I would be merely augmenting, not replacing, K.B.

I managed to squeeze a promise of $6,000 bucks and first-class airfare out of him for seven days' work, so off I went. But Damon Wayans wasn't particularly happy when I arrived.

And now, as I work my way towards him and Duane Martin, I'm thinking, "Play Duane, not Damon."

And that's what I do. Damon turns away (probably not even recognizing me) as Duane and I shake hands and bump shoulders and I scream in his ear that I'm really glad how things are going for him and that some cool things are happening for me, too, and we should hook up soon. He screams back that he'd be glad to.

I peel off before Damon can turn around and say, "Hey, you're the jerk who came in late on "Celtic Pride" and started telling everybody what to do."

I shove my way along, trying not to spill my drink while appreciating the press of some of the sexiest women on the planet who are heading the opposite direction and have given up any semblance of modesty in the crush of bodies.

There's a second power corner that has developed across the way. A thick pack of people, and two of the largest bodyguards I've ever seen. One guy black, the other looks part Samoan, part Hulk, I can't tell, but these guys are both an easy 6-foot-9, 380 pounds.

No exaggeration.

The Samoahulkian has that tell-tale bulging forehead that says, you just breathe this guy's exhaust you're not gonna be able to pass a steroids test for weeks.

The bodyguards' assignment: Make sure P. Diddy and Jay-Z (two of the richest hip-hoppers in the business) enjoy themselves and get out in one piece.

I get as close as I can before the Samoahulkian starts eyeballing me, and I consider what am I gonna do if I do actually get there, introduce myself and ask for money?

So, I turn and work my way onto the dance floor where by now total anarchy reigns -- which means I can dance away the rest of the night without anyone mistaking me for Mark Madsen.

Later, I'll tell my sleepy wife, "Honey, you'd be proud -- I danced with some beautiful women," and she'll answer, "Yeah, but did they know that?"

Suddenly there's Dennis Rodman again, leaning up against a wall across the way.

I don't know what does it, maybe the fourth vodka cocktail, maybe the steroid fumes coming off of P. Diddy's Neanderthal bodyguard, but suddenly I'm feeling belligerent.

And against all rules of self-preservation, I head Rodman's way, looking for payback.