Playoff Perspective

The Assist Leader

When It Comes to VIP Tickets, Sashia Jones Delivers

By Kevin Merida
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 12, 2005; Page C01

Fourth in what might be a continuing series.

Tickets? Tickets? Anybody got tickets?

As coordinator of player activities, Jones is the Wizards' go-to person for tickets. (Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)

Sashia Jones has tickets. Ticketmaster might be out, but Sash always has tickets. For tonight's Wizards-Heat playoff game at MCI Center, she started with a fat stack, but they are dwindling, dwindling. Dwindling but not gone. The trick is to hold out a few for game-time emergencies -- some insistent character inevitably shows up at Will Call protesting that Shaq was supposed to leave him tickets, and Shaq really was supposed to leave him tickets. Sashia walks around with her tickets bound by a rubber band, and they come with a smile. Good seats, too -- club level, lower level, a few that are 10 rows behind the Wizards bench. Those will cost you $175. Precious seats for precious people.

Note: This is not a story about the ordinary fan's needs.

You come to Sashia Jones only if you're a player, a coach, a celebrity or some other highfalutin figure. Her title is senior director of community relations for Washington Sports & Entertainment, the company that oversees the Wizards. Mostly, that means Jones coordinates player activities throughout the region -- visits to schools, shelters, youth organizations and the like. But the crucial part of her gig since the Wizards entered the playoffs for the first time in eight years is VIP ticket juggler.

Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas tells her: "Sashia, I want my dad on the floor for the playoffs." Done. Dad has been sitting courtside across from the Wizards bench since the Chicago Bulls were in town. A floor seat, by the way, is a thousand bucks -- not that Arenas, who makes $10 million a year, is sweating that loose change.

Jones's mission is to deliver for her exclusive clientele. She is pleasant but persistent. "There is no 'I'll get back to you, Sashia,' " she says. "This is the playoffs! Give me your credit card number and make sure the numbers are right."

Last week she was on the phone with the mother of Ludacris, who wanted to treat a friend to a Wizards-Bulls game as a birthday present. The rapper's mom was just making the arrangements. Jones came through with floor seats for the first-round clincher Friday. So, that worked out well. But sometimes there are situations -- like the Ben Affleck situation and the Chris Tucker situation.

Self-described representatives for the Hollywood actors claimed their guys needed tickets. Turns out the reps were impostors -- the phony Chris Tucker proxy went so far as to pay for two floor seats with an American Express credit card. It happened to be a stolen card. Jones was able to unearth the scams with the help of Leah Wilcox, vice president of player and talent relations for NBA Entertainment. Which is to say the liaison between celebrities and the league. Wilcox & Co. are hard to fool.

"Everybody's trying to get a great ticket," frets Jones. "Scam you and sell it on the streets."

Tonight's game doesn't have a strong lineup of celebrities. Jones got calls from Carmelo Anthony and Marcus Camby, two Denver Nuggets with nothing but time to kill. Members of Congress? Cabinet secretaries? They tend to be low-key ticket buyers. Jones doesn't hear a peep from them. Politicians are more likely to go directly to team owner Abe Pollin or Susan O'Malley, Pollin's top executive. The entertainers and other "beautiful people" often call at the last minute with one essential question: "Are my feet going to touch the wood?" If they're not sitting courtside they don't want to come. The gall, the gall! Jones would never say what she's thinking: Are you playing tonight? Are you singing the national anthem?

Oh, she's too courteous for that. She's Sylvia Jones's daughter who went to Blair High School in Silver Spring and graduated from Bowie State University hoping to become a broadcast journalist. She ended up with Washington Sports & Entertainment as an intern 10 years ago and by 2002 was Employee of the Year. Now she deals regularly with athletes who look like mountains next to her.

It used to be that the players had to take care of their own tickets, or get a ball boy to handle that chore. But the community relations department stepped in several years ago, a move that tightened the relationship between the players and those who are trying to get them to do good deeds. "If you have access to the tickets," Jones says, "you have a little power. Okay, we've got a big game coming up. Help us, we'll help you."

Each player is provided four complimentary tickets by the team, in the lower-level "family section" behind the basket closest to the Wizards bench. What Jones has are extra tickets, usually 75 to 100 per game. From that allotment, she also has to take care of the opposing team. It was 11:08 a.m. yesterday when she received the Heat's order by e-mail. "A very large order," says Jones, who didn't have permission to reveal exactly how large. "I'm going to go to the well," she adds, meaning she's going to check with the director of ticket operations, try to find out who's holding tickets they don't need.

You want to be in the good graces of your opponents because you want reciprocation on the road for your guys. That said, the top priority is always the Wizards. And with that in mind, Jones was camped outside the Wizards locker room yesterday afternoon, sitting in a folding chair in a darkened hallway waiting for practice to end. She had her tickets, of course, her cell phone, her BlackBerry and a notebook. Waiting to nail down orders.

Harvey Grant, a former player and now player development assistant, emerged first. "Harvey, this is your warning. Red alert." How many tickets for the Thursday and Saturday games? Grant ordered four for each game. Instructed by Jones, he left and returned quickly with a little slip of paper containing his credit card number. He gave Jones a hug. "I love you!"

Later, Jones spotted guard Steve Blake. "What you need, buddy?" Eight extra, Blake told her. Club level. "You know they're $110 now? They went up." Blake nodded. "Okay," he said.

And so it went, until Jones had nailed down her order for virtually the entire team. Not that she had all those tickets in her possession. But she's working on it.

"That's what you're wrestling with. How are you going to pull a rabbit out of a hat? But you stir the pot, put the calls out and see what happens."

At least there was some good news. Guard Larry Hughes needed no extra tickets. He was set. And he was serious. He had struggled with his shooting in Game 2. He wasn't thinking about tickets. "That's not the time, especially when you've got a game to play, worrying about somebody left outside."

No, that's for Sashia Jones to worry about.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company