On my sports bucket list is to be part of a court storming, to watch my team pull off a huge upset and be part of that energy and emotion on the court. However, something has to change when it comes to basketball because the lessons from the ‘Malice at the Palace’ haven’t been learned. It may be only a matter of time before it happens again.
Just a few weeks ago Utah State upset the Nevada Wolfpack to put themselves in position to share the Mountain West title. I called the upset beforehand and knew there was going to be a court storming, but I missed it. After that game Jordan Caroline was so upset with what happened during the court storming that he punched a fire extinguisher case. Are his actions justified? No, but it’s another case of that line being toyed with.
I missed that court storming because I was down in Salt Lake City watching a great game between the Jazz and Bucks. The Jazz’s home court finds itself at the forefront of national news because of a fan crossing the line. The video has gone viral because of the verbal altercation between a couple and superstar Russell Westbrook. Russ got fined and the fan has been banned for life from Vivant Smart Home Arena. Did Westbrook deserve the fine? Yes, but can you blame a guy for having enough of a moron crossing the line mere feet behind him?
Players have got to block it out, they’re always going to get hassled in hostile territory. That is true but there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed. Fan is short for fanatic and buying that ticket entitles you to a lot, but there is nothing in this world that gives you the green light to insult someone’s family, say something homophobic or racist.
No other sport makes players faces and personalities more of a commodity for the league’s benefit than basketball. You can see their faces, you are right there on top of the players the whole game. There is no way to ever guarantee that fans won’t say something stupid, they are human, but so are the players. What if that Jazz fan really got carried away and threw something, a beer at Westbrook? Anything Russ did would be on him but that’s a scenario that is much tougher to happen in any other sport. Heck, James Dolan just banned a fan for life for an offhand comment that the entire sports world thinks. Sell the Knicks!
There’s no netting, there’s no glass, there’s no space between fans and players. But there’s security! Westbrook could have told security to get that guy out of there and he shares that blame, but security was standing right there and did nothing while that fan crossed the line. Each year don’t we see highlights of at least some dumb fan making his way on to a sporting field? In basketball the fans are the closest and it doesn’t take a whole lot for some moron to find his liquid courage and cross the line, and once is all it takes for another Malice at the Palace.
Each level that sports goes up the intensity, the emotion gets ramped up even more. Any person who plays a pick up game knows exactly how that feels. You have to be able to get yourself to their mentally, that level is what makes players the best. You’re channeling all of that and you have to deal with morons threatening you over a game? It can’t be allowed to happen as often as it does.
I’m a Purdue fan and as a Boilermaker fan I hate Indiana sports with a passion. Among Big Ten faithful the “IU Suck!” chant has been debated as little brother syndrome that needs to disappear. This looks like it’ll be the last year of it after coach Matt Painter addressed it, and the reason why? On national TV a month ago, down at Assembly Hall, the whole world heard Hoosier fans chant “F You Haarms.”over and over again. They were condemned but just as many people justified it as “Rivalry.” 'That happens everywhere.” That’s inexcusable but that’s the mindset that fuels a moron to do something stupid just because a player they don’t like is there.
Two weeks ago the Boilers traveled up to Minnesota and got upset so the Barn stormed the court, a reasonable response for a team fighting for it’s bracket life. What did fans see on TV right after it happened? A student ran up to Matt Haarms, threw up the two finger salute and got shoved away only to do it again. Richard Pitino said “This isn’t how we should act.” just like Archie Miller told Assembly Hall after the game. When will basketball learn?
No one is naive enough to think magically certain fanatics are going to stop saying dumb things, but basketball needs to get more proactive. No one will justify a player acting physically, but no one could say they would be surprised. As a fan I don’t want to hear a jerk saying those things and no one wants to see a player risk everything because one night it’s just too much. It risks the stars and the general fan’s experience. History is doomed to repeat itself if basketball doesn’t get proactive about an impending disaster.