by Paul West
After a hard-fought loss to Colorado, Arizona’s coach Sean Miller went on a tirade about the hazards of court storming. In so doing, he delivered a statement that, from the mouth of someone else, might have been construed as a veiled threat. Please note that I am not endorsing this aspect of his rant; I am, however, pointing out that he’s got a point regarding the storming of college basketball courts.
This isn’t the first time I’ve pointed this out, but court storming is a recipe for disaster. One of the unique things that makes college basketball so special is the many shades of humanity it brings out of its fans, players, and coaches; part of where this comes from is the often literal sense of community that fans share with players. When a college basketball court is stormed after a game, most of the folks involved are simply celebrating–and bumps, trips, and other forms of contact are merely incidental.
The problem is, this doesn’t apply to everyone.
When a college basketball court is stormed after a game, some of the folks involved might be drunk out of their minds. Some of them might be hostile toward opposing players or fans. Some might be racist, or simply mean or juvenile, and decide to say or do something that’s not a very good idea. Add this to the unfortunately common sense of entitlement that sports fans of all stripes often feel, regarding the kinds of things they can say to a player within earshot…and it’s not hard to imagine how a situation might turn ugly.
Last year, a Kansas State fan shoved Kansas‘ Jamari Traylor during a court storm. A couple of years ago, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski reportedly had obscenities screamed at him and his players during a court-storming incident. Also within the past few years, there was an infamous incident where an older fan of the Iowa State Cyclones had to be restrained by police after a game. As I pointed out when I addressed this matter for Tarnation Sports: what if he’d gotten to run up and take a swing at Kansas coach Bill Self?
Before you think that I’m merely assuming the worst of people’s intentions, let’s look at non-sporting scenarios where rushing crowds lead to terrible consequences. Think of some of those infamous ‘black Friday’ shopping stampedes, where injuries, fights and even deaths have resulted from people scrambling for appliances. Now, let’s remember that at most college basketball games, alcohol and competitive energy are involved. Now imagine the mental state of young athletes, competing sometimes on national television, who have just lost a hotly contested game in the sport to which they devote countless hours. In a hostile environment, where they may have spent the previous couple of hours listening to heckling and perhaps verbal abuse. Try to imagine your mental and emotional state in such a moment…now imagine someone runs up and curses at you, shoves you, hurls a racial slur at your or maybe even takes a swing.
Decades ago, there was an awful incident at Madison Square Garden where a security guard was on camera choking a young man, in the midst of a psotgame brawl. Larry Bird once clocked a guy who ran up to him in a court-storming incident, and Jared Sullinger once said he was spit on during a postgame court-storm. Remember a few years ago, where a kid in a wheelchair was bowled over by a rushing crowd?
But again, let’s put aide such things, lest my argument be labeled cynical. Let’s consider the fact that rushing crowds often lead to stampedes, sometimes inadvertent. People panic, wind up underfoot, and wind up injured. The stairs at many of these arenas are quite steep, and there are railings, hard surfaces…oh yeah, and little kids and people in wheelchairs. If you read between the lines, there are countless accounts of people being quite frightened when a court-storming crowd surged around them, down multiple flights of stairs.
The SEC banned court storming a decade ago, and with good reason. If college basketball fans want to celebrate a big win, on their own home court at their own institute of higher learning, I don’t begrudge them that–but the players and coaches must be allowed to safely leave the court first. Let’s not wait until something goes tragically wrong to make this simple adjustment.