PORTLAND, Oregon — In the Moda Center, celebrities can be spotted sitting behind the team benches or in other areas of the stands.
The real-deal VIPs, though, sit courtside in The Legends section next to the visiting team bench. And the usher privileged to serve the A-list celebrities who grace the Rose City with their presence is Mary Ricks, a Vancouver grandmother who worked for 35 years at The Columbian newspaper.
"I'm nosy," Ricks said with a laugh. "So I usually ask. You want to know who they are, especially when they have Legend seats. Those are expensive, you know? I just go and ask them."
There's little than can faze Mary, because in her 16 years working this guest services post, she's learned not to take nothing from anybody and she has the stories to prove it. She had one encounter with a celebrity fan during a playoff game last season against the Warriors.
"Somebody was in the wrong seat, so my boss told me I'd have to go down and move them. So I walked down there to see who it was, and it was [former Blazer and NBA Hall of Famer] Scottie Pippen. So I walked up and I said, 'I'm sorry, I have to move you.' And he said, 'I don't want to move,' and then I said, 'You've got to move,' you know?
"So we kind of bantered back and forth. And so he said, 'Who's trying to take my seat?' And I said, 'Well, this isn't your seat because you're sitting over here by the Blazers.' So anyhow, he moves and then the people come over, and I brought in Colin Kaepernick to sit there. And Scottie Pippen asked if I'd come back and tell him who got the seat. So I went back to tell him it was Kaepernick and he thought it was funny," she said.
"Another time, Lil Wayne came in one night. I knew he was there because he's friends with Damian [Lillard]," Ricks said.
The job started as something for Mary to do with her nights after a divorce and retirement from the newspaper industry. It's a part time job, and in her guest services role, Mary can choose to work all kinds of events.
"It's everything from concerts to a Disney event to a hockey game," she said.
Mary knows the Moda Center hallways, stairwells and corridors like the back of her hand. And she's been inside for its biggest moments.
"You know when we played Houston and Lillard makes the shot? So I'm facing all the players from the opposing team," she said. "I mean, they're all looking that way towards the basket. And it was great for me to see their faces go from they thought they'd won the game, and then Damian made the point and the other team's faces just dropped. I can't contain myself if they're winning. I'm clapping and people are high-fiving you and they just come and grab you and give you a hug. I mean, they're so excited. So yeah, it's those moments that are really great."
With no plans to step down from her "retirement gig," through it all Mary said she's formed some special friendships, like with Blazers courtside reporter Brooke Olzendam, Washington Post NBA writer Candace Buckner, and then there's Bill Schonely, the legendary voice of the Blazers.
"I listened to Bill Schonely on the radio for years and now for the last, I don't know how many years, probably 10 years at least, Bill Schonely stands right behind me at the Blazer games," she said. "He just turned 90 and I have seen him, you know, get older. So I don't know how much longer he'll come, he doesn't stay the whole game anymore because he just gets tired. But that has been just so much fun to, you know, stand and talk to him."
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