Court Storming: An Avalanche of Potential Harm
Court storming by college students acting like stampeding buffalo without connected brains has become a post-game show worth watching, according to some basketball “experts.”
Who cares if there is serious injury?
Some of these ill-informed people would have you believe that this rampant behavior is a tradition that has been around ever since John Naismith hung his first basket at Springfield College. But they obviously never got run over during such a mad rush by thousands of immature, young adults celebrating one of their team’s upset victories.
Instead, these folks cheer on the avalanche of potential harm that threatens players, coaches, officials, helpless security guards, sane spectators and even the charging fans themselves.
“You can’t take this out of basketball,” said one television observer. “Give kids a chance to celebrate.”
Wild herds of reckless “kids” have rushed on to basketball courts time and time again this season, proving to their parents that thousands and thousands of dollars for a college education did not result in a serious case of intelligence.
Butler fans put on a post-game stampede when their team beat No. 8 Gonzaga by stealing the ball with 3.5 seconds to go so that Roosevelt Jones could make the winning shot at the buzzer, Jan. 19. Hundreds of Irish fans ran onto the court at South Bend, Ind., when Notre Dame finally beat Louisville in the fifth overtime period, 104-101, Feb. 9.
ACC Leads the Way
The Atlantic Coast Conference has become the leading court storming league in the nation as eight stampedes have occurred on ACC basketball floors this season, seven of which followed conference games. The lone non-conference game that resulted in a rampage took place on Nov. 28 when Michigan State, ranked No. 13 at the time, was upset at unranked Miami.
Duke has been beaten on the road four times this season and each time the home fans went wild on court. These celebrations were at N.C. State, Jan. 12; at Miami, Jan. 23; at Maryland, Feb. 16; and at Virginia, Feb. 28.
It was the fourth and last of these incidents at Charlottesville, Va., that caused coach Mike Krzyzewski to justifiably complain about a lack of protection for his Duke players and coaches, who were unable to get off the court before being swept up in the reckless melee.
Understandably, few non-Duke fans have any sympathy for the often rather supercilious Duke University students and alumni just as non-Yankee baseball fans abhor the arrogant Bronx Bombers.
However, that is no excuse for inflicting injury upon any Duke players or coaches. Any losing team that is upset on the road must be protected from possible harm resulting when exuberant fans overwhelm the athletes.
Duke was also run over at Raleigh when the Blue Devils suffered their first loss of this season at the hands of the surprising Wolfpack of N.C. State in January. But in this case, the most threatened individual was Will Privette, an N.C.State student who is confined to a wheelchair.
He was apparently a willing participant in the court-swarming celebration as someone pushed him out onto the court only to have the mob knock over his wheelchair, spilling Privette out onto the hard, wooden court. He was picked up and put back in his chair by C.J. Leslie, one of N.C.State’s best basketball players.
Last season, the ACC had only one incident of court rushing. That occurred at Florida State when the Seminoles upset North Carolina. Coach Roy Williams, who anticipated the FSU fans’ post-game actions as the Tar Heels were losing late in the second half, pulled his best players out of the game and sent all who were on the bench into the UNC locker room before the game ended.
The Southeastern Conference put an end to post-game court celebrations in 2004 when it established penalties for SEC institutions whose fans rushed the court in this manner.
TV Partially to Blame
Television is partially to blame for these actions by fans who want to be seen on TV and be part of the “Big Show” after the “Big Victory.”
Dick Vitale, for instance, has cheered on the enthusiasm of college fans from coast to coast and encouraged their exuberance displayed when storming courts.
Shortly before the end of the Duke-Virginia game last month when the Cavaliers were comfortably in front, Dave O’Brien and Gino Gaudio, ESPN’s two announcers, laughed about the impending invasion of the court by Virginia fans who were getting ready to charge at the sound of the final buzzer.
O’Brien and Gaudio were looking forward to it and, of course, the ESPN cameras kept showing the unruly mob in action as Duke players tried without much success to get free of the mob hysteria.
Knowing full well that sports reporters receive absolutely no sympathy for serving in the “line of fire” while doing their work, they do, nevertheless become exposed to possible injury from time to time. The only one who ever sympathized with my trials and tribulations was my wife. Sports editors don’t give a hoot. They only want to know, “Where the hell is your story?”
Despite enjoying my job for nearly half a century, I still had some anxious moments in riots, fires and these court-side stampedes, including one in particular 39 years ago at the conclusion of one of the most famous games in basketball history.
All Hell Breaks Loose
The undefeated and No. 2 ranked Notre Dame under coach Digger Phelps upset coach John Wooden’s No. 1 UCLA, 71-70, at South Bend, Jan. 19, 1974, to end the Bruins’ record 88-game, three-year-long winning streak. That was a rare nationally televised game in those days that had a build up for weeks.
As is the case at most college and professional basketball courts, newspaper reporters sit side by side at long, courtside tables just about three or four feet from the out of bounds line. The first row of spectator seats is less than six feet behind us as was the case at Notre Dame in 1974.
I sat courtside at Notre Dame pounding away on a good old portable typewriter just like other reporters there. The first word processor or portable computer did not come into use until later in 1974.
Notre Dame came from 11 points behind in the final three and a half minutes and Dwight Clay made the winning 2-point shot from the far, right corner. It would be a 3-pointer in today’s game.
Finally the game ended and all hell broke loose.
Those fans came storming out of their seats, leaping on and over reporters, tables, chairs, our papers and typewriters. And there I was, not long removed from the second of my back operations to correct a ruptured disc.
Irish fans, some of whom are now undoubtedly among their communities well respected citizens with fine jobs and families, were far from respectable that day as they stepped on us and our instruments of verbiage to launch themselves onto the court.
I remember huddling down over my typewriter in hopes no damage would be done. My back took some kicks but came through it all.
However, some typewriters were broken as were tape recorders. Papers were spilled every which way. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt. Things could have been a lot worse as crazy kids celebrated by acting as if they were taking part in the running of the bulls at Pamplona.
Television had something to do with that riotous, alcohol-induced behavior at Notre Dame in 1974.
Drinking has a lot to do with all of these court-storming operations.
About 50 years ago, fans started running out on Major League Baseball diamonds during games just so they would be seen on TV for that few seconds of fame before being arrested. Almost every one of those idiots was drunk at the time.
Television, at the request of Major League Baseball, stopped putting a camera on those crazy fools. That has virtually eliminated such behavior.
Maybe if TV would stop playing up the post-game shenanigans by basketball fans, the dangerous misconduct would end and thus cut down on the possibility of serious injury to players, coaches and spectators.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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