When I told the UNLV people I wanted to write about the new courtside seating area at Lady Rebels games sometimes referred to as Tiffany Row (there is no official connection with the women’s jewelry and specialty retailer), they pointed to three women’s basketball fans seated in the cushy seats near the baseline.
Not all the cushy seats were occupied for Saturday’s game vs. UNR — this is the first season one can purchase seats on the floor for Lady Rebels games; 33 of the 40 were sold. But the aforementioned three, I was told, are on hand for all Lady Rebels games, or darn near close. They even go to selected road games.
Cheryl Shea and her husband, Jeff, were lounging in cushy seats No. 5 and 6. A small tub of popcorn was on the hardwood between them. Cheryl had placed a bottle of water in the cup holder of her cushy seat.
“When I found out about the courtside seats, I bought two right away,” her hubby said. “It’s been fantastic. The coaching staff, players and the director of basketball ops (Rachel Dunn) have all, from the outset, made us feel like a valued part of the program.”
That was supposed to be the gist of this piece: That for what Jeff Shea called a reasonable base price for season tickets ($250) and a modest donation to the Rebel Athletic Fund, he and Cheryl feel a connection.
“We get the best seats in the house to watch a team that is talented, exciting and extremely hard-working,” he said. “As for the seats themselves, I would certainly say that closer is better — we see and hear a lot of stuff among the player, refs, coaches, etc., that we might otherwise miss or not be privy to.”
Sometimes, you might even notice a person who was a VIP before he or she made the modest donations to sit down low. A bounce pass down from the Sheas, in cushy seat 18, sat former Nevada governor Bob Miller — after all, this was a Governor’s Series matchup.
It costs a lot less for seats on Tiffany Row — or Knock Off Row as some have called it — quality entertainment at a fraction of the price than it costs to be seen on Gucci Row at UNLV’s men’s games, he said. He said he could relate more to the women, because they play as he did — below the rim.
Kathy Olivier, the Lady Rebels’ veteran coach, said the cushy seats are mostly about raising a little extra revenue for the program, and raising the team’s profile, especially among the well to do.
She said when the people in the cushy seats jump up and down, as they sometimes do, it creates energy off which the players can feed. The supporters’ contributions more or less pay have paid for the seat additions, she said.
But sometimes it’s about more than any of that.
At halftime I met Walter Irvine, who was sitting in cushy seat No. 4, next to Cheryl and Jeff Shea, who have become his pals. Walt Irvine said he needed some new pals after he lost his best one.
His wife, Chardale, died in February after a long bout with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. Char had been an all-star on the first girls’ basketball team at Lyman (Wyoming) High School. She was good enough to have played small college ball, Walt said. Then she got pregnant. Walt and Char met later in life.
Char would have loved the Lady Rebels, her widowed husband said. Walt, who only recently moved to Las Vegas, also suffers from chronic fatigue. He purchased the courtside seat to honor his wife’s memory, and also to give him something to look forward to. When you’re new in town, and you don’t know anybody, and your best friend has recently been taken from you, sometimes a guy needs something to look forward to.
Walt said the Lady Rebels, bless their hearts, signed a T-shirt for him, and that he has formed a bond with Aley Rohde, UNLV’s senior center — center was Char’s position — from Cave Creek, Arizona. They exchange email and Twitter messages. Aley always puts in #play4char at the end; her hashtag always makes Walt smile.
Aley Rohde didn’t start Saturday’s game against UNR. She played 14 minutes, scoring five points and pulling down a couple of rebounds in the Lady Rebels’ 65-59 victory, their third straight win.
Every time she touched the ball, Walt leaned forward in cushy seat No. 4 in nervous anticipation.
He didn’t say it, but you could almost see it in Walt Irvine’s eyes, that this must have been what it was like to have seen Char play in high school.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski