NBA all star game

What was it like to be an NBA All-Star Game seat-filler?

NBA All-Star Weekend captured Toronto's attention for the past few days as celebrities descended upon the city for outdoor concerts, glitzy parties, and of course, three nights of basketball.

Naturally, court-side spots on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night were reserved for celebrities and other high-powered individuals, but some less famous Torontonians also got in on the action as volunteer seat-fillers. Yes, some lucky fans got in for free just to keep the Air Canada Centre looking crowded.

For Ari Benarroch, it was a dream come true. He ended up sitting within the first three rows for most of the Saturday night skills competition at the ACC and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Bill Russell, Jason Collins and Jon Stewart.

Though, not everyone was so lucky that night. Ari notes that the process was a little confusing. "To say it was unorganized was an understatement," he notes. Since these coveted positions weren't guaranteed and would be determined on a first come, first serve basis, many arrived early on one of the coldest days of the year thus far.

Those at the front of the line, like Ari, got to be seat fillers. Others, like Holly C., were led to a holding area where they were told they'd get to rush onto the court for the halftime show.

Holly, a second year student studying creative industries at Ryerson University, says that about 300 people waited in the unheated holding area. And, she claims, they weren't allowed to wear their coats as they stood around. After running into the stadium for the brief halftime performance, her job was done.

Like Holly, Ari's friend Joey R. (he refused to disclose his last name) also wasn't a seat-filler. He was among the crowd in the holding space and was frustrated when he learned he wouldn't be able to leave before halftime, especially since he says the area didn't have a TV where everyone could watch the skills competition unfold.

"When I found out they told people they couldn't leave, I'm like, 'what are you talking about?' How do you hold people against there own will for a volunteer event, essentially?"

Eventually, he left early. "It was really frustrating to be honest," he says, "because I froze my ass off for over two hours waiting for this and got nowhere."

Holly says all of the potential seat fillers were given instructions to dress nicely, which made waiting in the cold even harder. She alleges one woman in a dress and flats was taken away by EMS.

"I'm a really optimistic person, so I try to be positive. But the more I thought about this, the more I thought they didn't handle the situation very well," she says of her experience.

A representative from Gotham Casting in New York City, which ran this seat filler program, said he was aware of the complaints, but acknowledged that the seat filler spots came on a first come, first serve basis and wouldn't comment further.

Photo via the NBA's Facebook page.


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