Thursday Hannah Karp of the WALL STREET JOURNAL did a piece on how great the party scene in Toronto was for visiting NBA players. Mentioned prominently in the story was a woman named Mona Halem.
At the center of much of the city’s athlete nightlife is an event planner and promoter named Mona Halem, a former employee of the Air Canada Centre, which is home to the Raptors. Ms. Halem has become “notorious” throughout the sports world, says Raptors forward Antoine Wright, for assembling attractive party guests to fete nearly every franchise that comes to town.
The popularity of these parties—some athletes say they’ve cancelled appearances and forfeited thousands of dollars in fees to attend them—has made Ms. Halem a known entity throughout sports.
The Journal doesn’t specify what Halem’s business model actually is, except that, “some athletes say they’ve cancelled appearances and forfeited thousands of dollars” to”attend” her “events.”
Here is an extensive gallery of photos from some of Halem’s past “events.” After you look through the photos let me know if you think NBA players have “forfeited thousands of dollars” to merely “attend” her “events.”
Today I talked to an NBA staffer and a league announcer about Halem. Each travels with an NBA team.
The staffer told me that league players have long been hooking up with “Halem’s girls,” with her “services” to the ballers often going beyond bottles.
I also learned today that Halem’s ladies occasionally service the stray, garden-variety rapper, boxer and member of the Buffalo Bills. (I’m serious.) Hockey and baseball players though aren’t getting any action, as Halem apparently prefers dealing with the basketball and football types.
That’s not to say that Halem makes her bones as madame, but if the follow-up pieces about her in the TORONTO GLOBE & MAIL and TORONTO STAR are any indication, I’m not the only one hearing that she’s providing visiting ballers with more than just party favors.
Chris Bosh came to Mona Halem’s birthday party. Her event planning company, Lady Luck Entertainment, throws velvet rope shindigs hosted by the likes of the L.A. Lakers’ Ron Artest. Her website has a photo gallery of big name athletes enjoying Toronto’s nightlife alongside a lot of pretty girls, all of them dressed to kill.
But, Halem says, she doesn’t run an escort service.
“Who the hell is that?” asks Halem when questioned about media comparisons to New York club promoter Rachel Uchitel, who was outed as the mistress of Tiger Woods. She says she didn’t pay attention as the Woods scandal unfolded.
“That’s not a comparison. If she’s a party planner, sure, but that other stuff, come on. It’s totally unfair. I think because it’s a male dominated industry. Because I’m a female, maybe that’s what led to that.”
From Paul Waldie and Andrew Willis of the Globe & Mail Friday:
Ms. Halem insists she provides superstars with a fun, hassle-free environment, not a place to pick up women.
“It’s not about that at all,” she said. “It’s just basically whether you’re a player or a businesswoman or businessman or student or whoever you are, you are going to enjoy it because of the atmosphere, the music, the friendly environment, the service.”
When asked if she is running an escort service, Ms. Halem replied: “Wow, no, definitely not! There are four or five other top promoter and event co-ordinators in the city and they are all men and none of them get asked that question.”
More on Halem’s “events” from the Star:
“It’s just celebrities and girls pretty much,” says DJ Wikked, who has played music at Halem’s event for six years. But, says the hip hop and RnB spinner, no one is paid to attend. “If girls meet guys at the VIP table, that’s what happens at a party.”
Another reason Halem’s parties stand out, says the DJ, is that her guests are willing to spend. “There are a lot of bottles being popped,” he says.
“Her clients are very bottle service oriented,” says Vito Ferrone, the VP of Operations at Liberty Entertainment Group, which has hosted Halem bashes at clubs like C Lounge and Tattoo Rock Parlour. “They tend to spend more.”
Finally, the most telling comments about Halem’s north of the border operation comes from local, sports-connected execs in Toronto:
“Mona is the Rachel Uchitel of Toronto,” said an executive who works with two of the city’s professional sports teams, referring to the New York club hostess who has been linked to golf superstar Tiger Woods.
The executive, who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said Ms. Halem is known for “throwing these incredible VIP parties that set up the athletes with access to anything they desire. She’s the hostess with the mostest.”
Other sports executives who have dealt with Ms. Halem used words such as “charming but pushy” to describe her style. One executive close to the Toronto Blue Jays said: “Her goal is to be everybody’s best friend, but she’s not exactly the kind of friend the athletes need.”
Speaking of friends, if you take care to go through the photos, you’ll notice that there seems to be the same, recurring women at most “events” - with those ladies usually stationed around Halem and the celebrities of the evening. Complete coincidence, obviously.
What’s most interesting about this whole thing isn’t that Halem is hooking up NBA players with local women, but the relationship between the Wall Street Journal piece about her and the subsequent Toronto follows.
While the Journal doesn’t even hint that Halem could be funneling prostitutes to NBA players, the second graf of the profile of her in her hometown paper confronts her about the possibility, as does the Toronto Globe & Mail piece.
That doesn’t mean that the Journal piece doesn’t include blaring sirens calling attention to what Halem could really be up to:
Athletes get a warm welcome at the city’s relatively libertine gentlemen’s clubs which, according to a spokeswoman for the Toronto Convention and Visitors Bureau, tend to “clear out the champagne room” for visiting athletes. And it helps that the tentacles of the tabloids and gossip Web sites rarely extend this far into the frozen north. “People like to come here to party,” says Raptors power forward Chris Bosh.
Not to mention the story noting how much “visiting” players enjoy the party scene, but locals like Bosh are lukewarm about it.
So knowing what we know now, I’ve saved the best for last. From the Globe & Mail:
“I don’t look at them as clients or customers,” Ms. Halem said yesterday. “I look at them as family or friends.”
She caters mainly to basketball, football and baseball players - “I don’t know anyone who plays hockey” - and she knows all the big shots.
Kobe Bryant? “Yeah, I know him. I know his wife.”
I believe that like I believe she’s hasn’t raped her clients on the exchange rate.