Dallas Mavericks backup point guard J.J. Barea arrived nattily attired and fashionably late to Jason Kidd's Charity Casino Night last week. When he walked through door, heads turned as if on a swivel.
But that's protocol when a Miss Universe walks into a room -- arm-in-arm with her basketball-playing boyfriend.
Listed graciously by the Mavs as 6-feet tall, but really pushing 5-10, Barea already has beaten the odds on the hardwood in his fifth NBA season. And now he's got a good thing going with fellow Puerto Rico native Zuleyka Rivera, who is Miss Universe 2006. For competition purposes, she's listed at 5-9.
"She has NBA League Pass now," Barea said, smiling. "She watches our games. It's pretty good, man."
The six-month relationship has heated up the past couple of months, said Barea, who first made contact with the NBA's newest fan in September, about two weeks before he returned to Dallas from Puerto Rico to report to Mavs training camp.
Barea, who is averaging career highs of 9.0 points and 3.6 assists, had met Rivera briefly at a few celebrity events in Puerto Rico. So when he heard that she had broken off a long-term relationship a little while back, Barea figured it was time to stop dribbling and make a pass.
How does one go about contacting Miss Universe?
"Text message," said Barea, who did his own reconnaissance work to obtain her phone number. "I sent her a message to say hi, something simple like hope you're doing good."
She was. But, she was also in Miami, where she lives and works as an actress, starring in telenovelas.
They began to talk via telephone and texts, and Rivera invited him to Miami before he headed to Dallas.
"It was an awesome first date," Barea said. "We took a private boat in Miami Beach and then went to a restaurant and hung out. Then I had to go to Dallas the next day."
Daily phone and text conversations ensued and Rivera began to visit Barea in Dallas when she had time off. Soon they were an item, but they had yet to be discovered by the media in Puerto Rico. That changed Feb. 13 thanks to -- what else? -- Twitter.
Barea's more than 18,000 Twitter followers (@jjbareapr) received this provocative, 25-character message that originated as a message to Barea from Rivera (@Zuleyka_Rivera): "I just Need You NoW!!!!!"
"We were talking back and forth and I was like, 'If you keep saying stuff like that, I'm going to retweet it,' " Barea said. "She was saying I don't believe you or you're too scared to do that. I was like, 'I'm going to do it and everybody's going to find out pretty quick.' "
He wasn't too scared, and the Internet on the Caribbean island burned up.
"As soon as I did it," Barea said, "we were in the newspaper in Puerto Rico in like the next 20 minutes."
So everyone knows and all is bliss.
"My [friends] are happy for me; my teammates are happy for me, too," Barea said. "It's cool. My family is happy as long as I'm happy. It's all good."
They are planning their first summer vacation after the season. Just don't expect the destination to be revealed on Twitter.
"Hopefully it will be in late June," said Barea, referencing the NBA Finals, which would end then. "I don't know where. Somewhere far away."
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.