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Keep madness on the court, and out of the stands

March 8, 2009
Tribune Chronicle

March has always been one of my favorite months for two reasons.

Spring training is in full swing, which means baseball games that count are about a month away, and the high school basketball tournaments are unbeatable for daily excitement.

Basketball is my favorite sport to watch in person because in most venues, you're right on top of the game, unlike in football or other outdoor sports.

In most cases, you can watch a play develop, see the emotion on the players' faces and hear a coach direct his team or work the officials as they make their way up and down the court.

Not that any coaches we know actually do that.

Wink, wink.

But nobody works the officials - or the opposing team - with as much gusto as Obnoxious Guy or Shrill Lady. You know them. I certainly do, because no matter what gymnasium I find myself in, they're sitting within earshot.

Earshot, of course, has a different meaning for different people. In normal, conversational speech, earshot might mean a distance of 5, 10 or 20 feet. Obnoxious Guy and Shrill Lady make sure everyone is within earshot whether they want to be or not.

These are the fans whose teams never commit fouls. They're almost always the victims of uncalled fouls committed by the other team, which is undoubtedly ''in cahoots'' with the officials.

If their team has the ball, a one-on-one collision occurs and bodies go flying, it was clearly The Worst Blocking Foul Ever Committed. If one of their players is on defense in the same situation, the opposing player clearly is guilty of The Worst Charge Ever Committed.

There are no gray areas in the world of Obnoxious Guy and Shrill Lady. If you're somehow still wondering what they sound like, think of Alec Baldwin's screaming voice-mail message to his daughter, and the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard ranting of Kate Gosselin from TLC's ''Jon & Kate Plus 8.''

These people usually work from a stock list of easily shouted catch phrases. Some of my favorites:

Often, fans are oblivious to the actual numbers of fouls that have been called, despite the existence of scoreboards that track that sort of thing.

An example happened in a game a former colleague was watching. Obnoxious Guy - remember, he is everywhere - was sitting two rows behind him, and kept ranting for the officials to, ''Call it both ways!'' each time down the court.

Finally, my former colleague turned and told the guy loudly and firmly, ''Sir, the officials have called eight fouls on the other team and two on your team. Sit down and shut up!''

Not necessarily. The other player very well might have simply jumped higher and grabbed the rebound without fouling the player who thought he had position.

If there is a foul to be called, it would be because the player jumped into the player with inside position, and made significant contact in the officials' estimation.

Chances are if a player parks himself anywhere on the court - let alone in the paint - for three seconds or more, his coach is going to notice and probably take issue with him.

Fans whose teams are playing against a team with a big man inside are prone to yelling, ''Three seconds!'' ad nauseum.

Sportswriters certainly wouldn't like it, because we'd never hit our deadlines. I'm not advocating thuggery on the court, but part of an official's job is discretion in blowing the whistle. Much more often than not, I'll live with their judgment.

What I find amazing is that fans 40 or 50 rows from the court can spot this when three officials didn't see it.

There have always been a few overbearing fans in basketball or any sport, but it seems more prevalent now than it did 25 years ago. Maybe it's part of the overall lack of civility that has creeped into society. You never really heard about road rage until a few years ago. Now you can't even drive to work without another driver signaling that you're No. 1, just not with the usual digit.

But road ragers aren't going to keep me off the streets. I take a passive-aggressive approach when I'm tailgated, and slow down to the speed limit or even a bit below it. That often leads to even more furious hand signals.

Irate basketball fans won't keep me out of the gym, either, but it would be nice if March Madness could be limited to the game and kept out of the bleachers.

Yeah, I know. Keep dreaming.



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