To those now screaming for a court-storming ban: You’re wrong
I would like to tell you why, unlike a large amount of college basketball pundits over the past 24 hours, I believe an all-out ban on court-storming is a terrible and misguided idea. And I’d like to do so by telling you a story.
But before I tell that story, I must address the chaotic scene that happened on Monday night in Manhattan, Kan., when a Kansas State team that has underachieved all season upset the eighth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks.
The moment the buzzer sounded on the 70-63 K-State victory, thousands of fans — I’ll presume most of them were students, but I spotted a few gray hairs in the bunch — rushed the court. It was not an orderly court-storming, if there is such a thing. Kansas forward Jamari Traylor was hip-checked by a rowdy Kansas State fan. A Kansas assistant coach briefly and justifiably put a headlock on a wild-eyed fan in the aim of protecting his own players. Kansas head coach Bill Self was trapped against the scorer’s table by the crowd, escaping to safety only with the pleading help of Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber.
This was a bad scene. There are ways it could have been avoided; it’s not like the game ended on a buzzer-beater, so there had been several minutes where security and both coaching staffs could have prepared for this. Kansas State athletic director John Currie later apologized to Kansas and said Kansas State’s arena security didn’t do a good job of securing the court immediately after the game ended. That was the biggest problem — not that the fans stormed the court, but how they did it — and that was what Self highlighted after the game: “It’s fine if you want to celebrate when you beat us. That’s your business. That’s fine. But at least it shouldn’t put anybody at risk.”
Yet Self’s measured words didn’t stop the sport’s opinion-makers from immediately jumping on a soapbox to attack the very idea of a court-storming. Luckily, no Kansas players or staffers were injured. But it could’ve easily happened, and as I’ve heard so many people weigh in on the evils of court-storming in the day since, I’ve assumed it will happen, and likely soon.
And you know what? They’re probably right. Someone’s going to get hurt in a court-storming. A player is going to defend himself by smacking a fan, or a fan is going to sucker-punch a player. It’ll be ugly. It’ll lead to even more vehement pronouncements about stopping this tradition. It’ll lead to pleas for every conference to follow the lead of the SEC and fine schools substantial amounts of money when their home fans storm the court.
It’ll lead to the end of one of the only-on-campuses traditions that makes college hoops different — and, in my view, better — than the more sanitized, professionalized NBA.
God, I hope it doesn’t happen.
Because in the name of 100 percent assurances of safety, we’ll lose something beautiful.
And now is when I’d like to tell you a story.
One night almost exactly two years ago, I went to Minneapolis to watch the Minnesota Golden Gophers take on the No. 1 team in the nation, the Indiana Hoosiers. Minnesota’s season had been a roller-coaster; Tubby Smith’s team had broken into the top 10 in January, then flopped over the next two months. Minnesota was sitting directly on the bubble.
And yet, on one magical night that told you everything you need to know about the importance of home-court advantage in college hoops, Minnesota managed to upset the top-ranked team in the nation, a team that had future No. 2 overall pick Victor Oladipo and future No. 4 overall pick Cody Zeller.
Students streamed onto the court at the buzzer. Security guards had no chance. In the middle of the scrum, it was steaming hot, and tight. Several Minnesota players — Trevor Mbawke, Rodney Williams Jr., Andre Hollins — fell down to the court. They told me afterward they weren’t worried. In the middle of that sort of moment, getting hurt was the last thing in their mind. They were soaking in the moment.
I’m not focused so much on what happened in the middle of that scrum as what the players told me in the locker room afterward: Simply, that being in the middle of a court-storming during this up-and-down season was one of the best moments of their basketball careers.
“Growing up, watching these college games, you see it all the time," Williams told me that night. "You want that to be you. It took four years, but that finally was me. And I said, ‘That’s going to be a moment I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.’"
Ever since then, whenever I hear somebody talk about cracking down on court-storming because someone could get hurt, I think of Rodney Williams, and how on that night you couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.
Yes, legislating against court-storming would ensure the possibility of injury would be lessened — and would decrease the likelihood of ugly moments like what we saw in Manhattan on Monday.
But legislating the fun out of college basketball — banning one of the things that makes this sport stand out in a crowded sports landscape — would take some of these great moments away from the players, too.
It’s almost like the old NRA slogan: Court-storming doesn’t hurt people. Stupid people doing the court-storming hurt people.
And so the next time there’s an ugly court-storming moment like on Monday — and it may come tonight, or next week, and hopefully it won’t end in injury, or worse — take a breath. Remember that the problem here isn’t the tradition. The problem is the people who take one of the most cathartic, exciting moments in sports and use it as an opportunity to do something ugly. The individuals are the problem here, not the group.
Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter or email him at ReidForgrave@gmail.com.