At the Staples Center, James Goldstein is too famous to valet park. He arrives in a 1961 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, which he prefers to drive himself, and parks it in a motor court just in front of the VIP entrance.
"They part the seas for him because they recognize the car," says Richard "Rico" Haenisch, who has known Goldstein more or less since being drafted in the seventh round by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1984.
Even if they didn't recognize the car, they would notice the clothes. Goldstein looks famous. Like he's in a band or something. He likes to dress in head-to-toe leather—usually custom by Olivier Rousteing at Balmain, or Hedi Slimane at Yves Saint-Laurent (whose spring/summer 2015 collection he is said to have inspired)—with one of the animal-skin cowboy hats he designs himself covering his flyaway hair. His companions are typically model-types: tall, blonde, leggy, and usually several decades younger than Goldstein, who is in his mid-70s.
Goldstein pauses for pictures with fans, obliging his hangers-on, before he passes through a side door and down a carpeted staircase to the arena's VIP area. Nobody bothers him there—it's a regular crowd, they all know each other—so he can move quickly into the even-more-exclusive Chairman's Room, where he can grab a bite to eat and watch the games already in progress before heading down to his seats under the basket near the visiting bench.
If there's time to kill before tipoff, Goldstein can be seen standing out on the court, dribbling a basketball with a big smile on his face. He's the only person, other than the players, to be accorded this privilege, either by dint of his longevity, by his decades of NBA patronage, or by the fact that he knows everyone else on the court. Goldstein is friendly with almost all the players in the league, especially the European guys he sees on vacation over the summer. Players and coaches will come over and talk to him, bending down to catch a word as they strike casual poses for Goldstein's Instagram.
Jim Goldstein is a fashion icon, a basketball superfan, and an art mogul. He's a millionaire playboy who dresses like an anime rock star. He lives in one of the most famous houses in Los Angeles, which he's bequeathing to an art museum; it has its own nightclub, Club James, which plays host to all the best parties for the fashion elite, for the basketball elite, for a list of celebrity names that would put the Oscars to shame.
Framed clips of articles about him line the wall of his library, most prominent among them a 2010 Interview feature that asks, "WHO THE HELL IS JAMES GOLDSTEIN?"
"I think that's been exaggerated a little bit," Goldstein says of his mystique. "I don't think there is much that's really a secret at this point. As long as I have the reputation of being a mystery man, I like it."
Goldstein has another reputation, though—one that's perhaps less known to the celebrities he calls friends or the elite NBA circles he runs in—as the owner of at least five mobile home parks in Southern California, who, his tenants say, has spent decades going to great lengths to squeeze every drop he can out of them. The mystery man was open discussing his childhood, his NBA fandom, his girlfriends, and his iconic Beverly Hills home. But when asked about the fortune that affords him his life of luxury, Goldstein said he didn't want to talk about business. "Tell him I have nothing to add," he instructed his assistant via email.
James Goldstein wasn't always fabulous or mysterious. His story traces the classic outline of the Hollywood starlet. He came from Midwestern roots, outgrew his hometown, and followed Horace Greeley's calling to go West and grow up with his country.
Goldstein's father owned Zahn's department store in Racine, Wisconsin—the roots of his fascination with clothing. While his father was a conservative dresser, Goldstein went the other way. He says a pink suit, purchased in high school, was an early statement buy.
Goldstein's parents introduced him to tennis, a game he still tries to play every day, but his true love was basketball. His first team was the Milwaukee Hawks, which moved to Wisconsin in 1951; their chief rivals were the George Mikan–led Lakers of Minneapolis. Goldstein started going to games at age ten. By 15, he was the scorekeeper for the radio and television broadcast crews, until the team left for St. Louis in 1954-55. (Goldstein is notoriously reticent about his age, but that puts him in his mid-to-late 70s.) In those days, Goldstein says, the Hawks drew only about 2,000 fans to their games. In their last season in Milwaukee, they went just 26-46.
"They used to play doubleheaders," Goldstein told me. "Or they would have the Harlem Globetrotters playing first, in order to bring fans to the games."
Goldstein moved to California to attend college at Stanford, in Palo Alto, and then followed Highway 1 down the coastline to get his Masters of Business from UCLA. Even on a grad student's budget, he continued going to basketball games, buying Lakers tickets from the box office or a scalper: $15 to sit on the court, or $10 a few rows back.
By 1964, he was finishing his studies and living near the Whiskey A Go Go, a hotspot for celebrities and their friends on the Sunset Strip. It was there that Goldstein met the first of his famously glamorous, beautiful, and wild girlfriends: Jayne Mansfield, the movie star second only to Marilyn Monroe in the pantheon of Hollywood's blonde sex symbols.
"The Whisky had just opened up and I used to go there every night," Goldstein says. "It was full of celebrities. She was in there and I was a big fan of hers. I got up my courage and asked her to dance and the rest is history."
The fact that the actress was married—to Mr. Universe, Mickey Hargitay—didn't deter either of them.
"She had told him that I was her friend but he didn't fall for it and had already threatened my life. Then she and I started getting very careful as to when we saw each other. That particular night we parked our cars in separate places two blocks away. Nevertheless, we were at someone else's house, and what we found out later was that he had a private detective following us. So her husband broke the door down, entered the house and caught us. My friend was a skier and he picked up the ski and started bashing me over the head with it."
Goldstein never married, but he's also never without a companion. "Whenever a man has a beautiful girlfriend, then other girls want to be with him as well," Goldstein says. "I don't know what advice I could give to someone who's starting out to be helpful with that. You have to just find the first girl."
"Being with the young girls helps me feel very young."
After graduating from UCLA in 1964, Goldstein joined the newly formed Rammco Investment Corporation, which bought farmland on the outskirts of Los Angeles and flipped it for millions. Rammco's chairman, the 31-year-old Arthur Carlsberg, was widely recognized as a savant in the world of Southern California real estate. He pioneered an algorithm for land valuation, according to a Time Magazine cover story in 1965. The company would buy properties and subdivide them, selling plots at a 10 percent commission to those looking to join in on Southern California's latest development boom.
Goldstein became one of the firm's acquisitions men, finding promising vacant land around Riverside and San Bernardino. By 1972, he had risen to the level of vice-president and could afford to purchase a home in Beverly Hills—his Afghan hound, Natasha, whom he has called the love of his life, needed a yard to run around in. The residence, designed and built by John Lautner in 1963, cost Goldstein $185,001—about $1.06 million in today's dollars.
Goldstein worked with Lautner from 1979 until the architect's death in 1994 to completely redesign the house. (After Lautner's death, Goldstein worked with Duncan Nicholson, Lautner's assistant, and after Nicholson's death last January, he began to work with two of Nicholson's former assistants.) He made the glass panes frameless, he ripped out the green shag carpeting, he redid all the concrete, and he completely replanted the landscaping. He even worked with Lautner to design built-in concrete furniture down to the placement of the leather stitching on the couches.
The Sheats Goldstein residence consists of three buildings nestled behind whisper-quiet silver gates. The driveway, overlooked by a single basketball hoop, is typically packed with cars: for the near-daily modeling shoots, the seemingly endless construction, or the visitors on architectural tours. The house has appeared in The Big Lebowski, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, and innumerable shoots of both high and low fashion.
"His life, and his use of the house, is very multifaceted. He loves film shoots, he loves the events and magazines with fashion," says Michael Govan, the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The museum will inherit the house when Goldstein—who has no children, ex-wives, or other obvious heirs—dies. "We agreed from the beginning how important it was to keep the house alive through programs, through renting it for films and shoots."
Museum estimates place the value of the gift around $40 million, not including a $17 million endowment for upkeep. Goldstein said he considered that figure "conservative," which is probably the only time that word will ever be associated with James Goldstein.
In many ways, it's appropriate that he's giving the house to LACMA, since it already functions, more or less, as a museum to himself. Almost every available surface is covered with pictures of Goldstein and his celebrity friends. On the walls hang multiple portraits of Goldstein in his iconic leather with a hand in pocket, hip jutting jauntily out, high-fashion grimace on his face. In person, Goldstein walks slowly and talks deliberately. As he moves through his home, he constantly adjusts things. He'll center a thermometer here, or flip a couch cushion there. He does this reflexively, with the practice of someone who doesn't want to leave a single element unimproved.
Goldstein controls his image in a similarly obsessive fashion. His Instagram, for example, which has nearly 55,000 followers, alternates between shots of supermodels in his home and photos of Goldstein with basketball or fashion luminaries. It is as glamorous as it is inscrutable, and it all continues to raise the same question: Who the hell is James Goldstein, really?
"He's an asshole," Nancy Haigh says. "Write this down. He's an asshole."
Haigh is a retired US Postal Service carrier and for three years has lived at Colony Cove, a mobile-home park in Carson, forty minutes south of Beverly Hills.
Moses Chambers, a retired LAPD officer, has lived in Colony Cove for 16 years, and his reaction to the mention of Goldstein's name is not much better.
"That dirty motherfucker."
Haigh and Chambers are two of Goldstein's tenants, among hundreds spread across at least five trailer parks that he owns in California, and they are not wrapped up in the romance of James Goldstein, man of mystery.
Goldstein was introduced to the lucrative potential of mobile-home parks by Arthur Carlsberg, his former boss at Rammco (which was renamed Carlsberg Financial Corp). Arthur bought his first mobile-home park in 1971, and found that they were an excellent investment. He began to rapidly acquire such properties and by 1973 he was again featured in Time for his innovation in Southern California real estate.
"For a developer, mobile-home parks carry most of the advantages and few of the disadvantages of other real estate projects: construction costs are at a minimum and tax benefits at a maximum," the article says. "Since a park contains few permanent structures, Carlsberg pays lower property taxes than he would on a shopping center or an office building."
When Carlsberg died in 1978—he fell from a cliff while on a hunting expedition for rare mountain sheep in the Caucasus Mountains—responsibility for the company passed to Goldstein and Carlsberg's brother Richard. While Richard preferred the old method of flipping properties for profit, Goldstein wanted to seek out more long-term investments, and so he struck out on his own in the early 1980s, purchasing a series of rent-controlled mobile-home parks in the state. He acquired Colony Cove more recently, in 2006.
Though the homes in these parks are technically mobile, they are better described as manufactured. The structures are as rooted in the land as the people themselves. Nancy Haigh grows orange, tomato, cucumbers, squash, jalapeños, and artichokes behind her trailer. All the residents I spoke to talked about their fondness of one another and of the communities that they had created.
The streets of Colony Cove were the black of relatively fresh asphalt. All the windows were whole. Gardeners and contractors buzzed around the park in pickups. Bass thumped faintly from the StubHub Center—home to the LA Galaxy—a few blocks away. A park staffer stopped to chat amiably with residents before moving off in his golf cart. There wasn't trash on the street, the cars were new-ish, and though the residents were generally above 55, they weren't exactly fit for a retirement home. People walked into the swimming pool area with towels. It seemed like a comfortable retirement: not too expensive, but not shabby in any appreciable way. There's a neighborhood there. People look out for each other.
And Goldstein has pursued two often-contentious legal avenues to maximize his income from them.
First, he regularly attempts to raise rents past the rent control allowed by the cities in which his parks reside. When the rent commissions deny him his increase, he sues the city.
In September 2007, for instance, Goldstein filed for a $618.15 per-month rent increase in order to help pay down his debt on Colony Cove, which he had purchased the previous year for $23,050,000, with $18 million financed from GE Capital, according to documents obtained by VICE Sports. He was granted an increase of only $36.74 per space per month. The following year, he filed for a $250 rent increase. He was granted an increase of just $25. After both decisions, and indeed after most decisions against him, Goldstein has sued the City of Carson, and attempted to pass his six-figure legal costs onto his tenants as part of the application for the following year's rental increase.
Goldstein's second strategy relies on California's Subdivision Map Act—a series of regulations, the earliest of which dates back to 1893, that govern how land is subdivided in California cities. Using a specific section of the law, Goldstein has sought to unilaterally convert his rent-controlled parks into subdivisions, which would force residents to purchase their homes from Goldstein in order to remain in them.
In 2002, a judge backed Goldstein's interpretation of the law, ruling that he had the right to convert the El Dorado park in Palm Springs into a subdivision, and that the City of Palm Springs could not dictate the terms of the subdivision in an effort to protect the low-income residents.
Goldstein's lawyers argue that the conversion offers a chance for residents to own their homes, rather than rent.
"Conversion is good for them because it gives them the ability to own the land and not be renters," Goldstein's attorney Richard Close told The Daily Breeze. "Houses depreciate but land appreciates in value. Now, the landlord gets the increased value of the land and the resident-homeowner owns a mobile home that's going down in value."
(Goldstein repeatedly declined to answer questions regarding the mobile-home parks.)
Many residents of El Dorado bought their lots outright or stayed on in a rental capacity. One Palm Springs resident, who asked to be identified only as Ku'uipo, and who worked as a Tahitian dancer in Las Vegas and location scout for Steven Spielberg on Jurassic Park, bought her land. She said she chased Goldstein off her property when he came to inspect it after the ruling.
Other residents, however, abandoned their homes. Today, many of the lots still sit empty. In a five-minute drive around the park, I counted roughly 25 empty lots. Ku'uipo put the number of empties as high as 140, out of the 400 pads in the park overall. She speculated that Goldstein kept the lots empty on purpose, though she couldn't figure out why, and we couldn't confirm whether that was true.
Goldstein attempted to repeat this process at Colony Cove, where he met opposition from most of its residents and, in turn, the city of Carson itself. In 2009, Goldstein successfully won the right to subdivide Colony Cove. Due to legislation signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, and an ensuing court decision, the subdivision of Colony Cove hasn't yet taken place, and it's become much harder for mobile home park owners to subdivide their properties in the future without the majority vote of the tenants.
But Goldstein hasn't given up. On May 5, his attorneys won their federal lawsuit against the City of Carson, seeking $10 million in damages for blocking his conversion attempts at Colony Cove and unconstitutionally denying him profit, this time in Federal Court. A judge awarded Goldstein $3.3 million. There could be another round of legal battles, especially if Goldstein is emboldened by his latest victory.
Against this backdrop, residents complain that Goldstein has cut services to the park, chief among the removal of the security gate and the reduction of the security force to one guard. Raymond Black, a retired Boeing worker who has lived in the park for three years, says that his neighbor's motorcycle was stolen from right in front of his house. Terri Forsythe, the current Homeowners Association President and former president of the Carson-based Homeowners Against Rent Decontrol, has more serious allegations.
"The people went into the park and have actually told our seniors don't walk on this end of the park," Forsythe says of what she describes as a criminal element. "They said there were cars in the back of the park. We don't know for sure, but we're assuming they're selling drugs back there. When we have complained about it to management and said where is our security here, we don't feel safe anymore, their comment is: 'Our security guards that drive around are to watch our property, not yours. If you have a problem call the police.'"
Forsythe, who uses an electric scooter to get around, says that she rides out to that end of the park to try to roust the negative element, but to no avail.
In Goldstein's office, he has pictures with high school-aged LeBron James, Sam Cassell, Boris Diaw, Anthony Davis, Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved, Klay Thompson, Jamal Crawford, and too many others to name. Below them are stacks of magazines, some open to articles featuring either words about Goldstein or photos of supermodels draped across the architecture of his home. There's a large portrait of Goldstein—one of several that he keeps around the house, each a stylized vision of its owner in one of his iconic wide-brimmed leather hats.
The living room—which you would recognize from The Big Lebowski—is also adorned with portraits of Goldstein with celebrities: Rihanna, Karl Lagerfeld, Kate Moss, Kanye, Snoop Dogg, Jay Z, Megan Fox, Pharrell, Drake, Dennis Rodman, Diddy, Brad Pitt, Mick Jagger. In their midst is a picture of Pamela Anderson walking naked out of the house's custom-designed infinity pool.
That pool is located on the roof of the main house. If you swim down to the bottom, you'll see windows that look down into the master bedroom.
"The original owners of the house used that to keep track of their children," Goldstein says. "I don't use it for that."
Goldstein's bedroom, like the rest of the house, offers spectacular views of Los Angeles while containing some secrets of its own. His hat collection, prodigious and animal-skinned, rests atop a long dresser. In the corner hangs one of his iconic leather jackets. He walks over to the closet—hidden, of course, behind a mirrored door—and debuts his "famous clothing collection." The rack rotates with the press of a button. He's especially proud of a custom jacket from Balmain with stitching made to look like a lion. In the bathroom, the faucet operates by the wave of a hand. The hot tub outside is concealed by an automated panel. In the floorboards of the bathroom, is a hidden scale.
"All the models that come here get weighed in," Goldstein jokes.
Despite the trappings of his home, Goldstein tries to be as economical as possible when it comes to the NBA playoffs. During the first round, he picks which Western Conference games he wants to go to. The second round, he'll alternate between the Western series and go to a game each night. For the Conference Finals, he obviously goes to every Western game; he also takes in the Eastern series if it's not too far. Because of the cost, he says, he flies coach.
Though his seats might not be as good elsewhere as at Staples, he is typically still greeted like royalty wherever he goes.
"He would get treated like a God in San Antonio or Utah, places like that," Haenisch says. "He's an anomaly going to those places. 'Oh my God Jim Goldstein is here. We're in the big time now."
Some places, like Oklahoma City, act like he's the biggest celebrity that ever hit town. Everybody wants a photo with him. The governor went out of her way to introduce herself to Goldstein in the tunnel. The owner of the Thunder, having never met him before, immediately extended an invite to his private suite.
Goldstein says he's been to every NBA Finals game for 40 years, and attended at least one game in the Finals for the past 50. His appreciation of the game is aesthetic and deeply held. Here, Goldstein is truly in his element.
"You can feel his passion and I like that about him," Haenisch says. "He doesn't pull back. He gets really upset when you attack the integrity of the sport."
At least in basketball, Goldstein always roots for the underdog. That might mean that he pulling for the Chris Webber-era Kings, or the Mike D'Antoni and Steve Nash Seven Seconds or Less Suns, or the Sidney Moncrief Bucks of the 1980s. It's why he found Ray Allen's game-tying three-pointer in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals so heartbreaking. A still of what he calls "the biggest shot in the history of the NBA" is the only basketball picture in his library, which sits two rooms away from his office. In it, you can see Goldstein sitting a few rows back as Allen rises to fire.
"I was right there," Goldstein says. "I teased Ray Allen afterwards by saying that I could have blocked this shot."
Goldstein is at the Finals this year, as well, even though it will cost him. "The Warrior games have been the most expensive playoffs experience I've ever had," he says. He reportedly spent $12,500 on his tickets to Game 2 of the Finals in Oakland. You can see him on TV broadcasts, his wide-brimmed hat floating next to the announcers' table or by the Warriors' bench.
And once the playoffs are finished, Goldstein will return to his perch in Beverly Hills, hit tennis balls with his tennis pro, and watch the sunset from his infinity pool. His tenants will remain in the distance, hidden from sight by a curtain of smog and skyscrapers.
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