Watching Rihanna work her way through the crowds at the Staples Center one Wednesday night in January, during a Los Angeles Clippers vs. Miami Heat basketball game, is a bit like watching a purebred, prizewinning Abyssinian wander into a coyote den. Perfectly nice gentlemen turn into eye-popping, lip-smacking cartoons of their former selves, practically tripping over one another as she struts past in skintight blue jeans and nude Louboutins, her Little Red Riding Hood hair grazing the top of the dark sunglasses that cover those glossy hazel eyes.
By the time we descend into the arena and get to our courtside seats, it’s a safe bet that thousands of people are aware that the pop star is seated among them. Her hair is the opposite of a disguise; indeed, it is a neon beacon in a sea of color and noise. Before long the cameramen find her, and within seconds her face is on the Jumbotron, sending a wave of murmurs—rihannarihannarihanna—rippling through the rows. When she realizes she is glowing huge on the screen above us, she takes off her sunglasses, flashes that sweet smile, and waves to the cheering fans.
All eyes may be on Rihanna, but during breaks in the game—in which she is deeply engrossed, cheering loudest for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade—she herself turns her laser beams on the crowd. A woman in a fur walks by, and I get a gentle elbow in the ribs. “Check her ouwt,” she says, one eyebrow cocked in bemusement, her Barbadian accent suddenly very pronounced. “Do you really think she needs to be wearing a full-length fur coat to a basketball game when it’s 70 degrees outside?