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Sports and Jury Selection

It’s NBA playoff basketball time so it’s probably a bit predictable that I have managed to combine law and basketball into my Monday blog. That’s because I went to the Wizards/Hawks game on Saturday night in Washington D.C.

Here’s a picture of me at the game during the game-winning shot by Paul Pierce. Looking at this crowd and trying to search for me is like asking you to “find Waldo”.


You can see me in the bottom left corner of the picture, standing just above the photographers in a blue jacket and blue shirt… looking “fan crazy”. A shot at the buzzer will do that to a fan. At least that’s my excuse! I suspect that you are still having a hard time finding me! That’s the power of a crowd.

Several years ago I met an NBA referee from Virginia. He was officiating back in the 1990’s. I asked him what it was like to referee a game with Michael Jordan playing, and whether it was hard to do it. He described it as if the power of Jordan walking on the floor was much like attending an Elvis Presley, and that you couldn’t help but be impacted by it.

He hastened to add that he quickly adjusted. I guess that he didn’t want me to think that his officiating could be influenced by the cult of personality. When I look again at the screaming crowd on Saturday night, it makes me wonder how any official can avoid being influenced. I guess that’s part of home court advantage.

It reminds me of being an official of faculty basketball, as a freshman at Bob Jones University. The entire league was made up of teams from the college professors. And, the president of the university was also playing… Dr. Bob Jones III.

I remember calling one foul on him where he just stared at me after I blew the whistle and made the call. Tough times for a mere college freshman! Years later he laughed about that when I told him that story. I have to admit… I was influenced.

During my jury selection for a case trial, I try to ask questions that are intended to reveal any bias or prejudice. Sometimes I will receive an answer from a prospective juror that will reveal one of those characteristics. I have seen several potential jurors struck by defense attorneys, just because they didn’t want a juror hearing a car crash case, if that juror responded that they had previously been in a car crash. The defense attorney is sensitive to a potential bias toward my client, who was hurt in the crash.

Usually near the end of my prospective jury panel questioning, I will ask a variation of the following to the panel: “You have heard the judge describe the events of this crash and now you have some details about my client and her treatment. Based on what you heard, is there anyone who believes that they cannot be fair and impartial in this case. Perhaps something about these facts causes you to be already influenced before you have heard the case.”

I may even recite some examples of where I would be influenced. I tell them that there are just some cases that I personally could not be fair to all the parties because of the facts.  That’s because we are all subject to outside influences. However, that doesn’t always mean that such influence is a bias or prejudice. In some examples, the referee of the case— the Judge, has to make that call.

And for pic 0′ day, here’s some influence and persuasion:


The Fan That Heckled Lebron

“You’re a bum” is one of the first “heckler phrases” that I heard when I went to a baseball game. Of course, I have been known to heckle umpires or referees with such expressions as, “If you had one good eye, you’d be a Cyclops“. If you know Greek mythology, then you know that a Cyclops only has one eye. Another thing I’ve been known to holler is, “Hey ref, you’re missing a good game”.

I start this blog out with the admission that I have been guilty, on occasion, of a bit of heckling. It has always been my belief that a certain amount of heckling is part of the experience of a game. Why else would you be called a fan, if you are not truly fanatical.

Avid NBA Washington Bullets’ fans (that’s before they were renamed the Wizards) probably remember a famous fan heckler, that used to sit right behind the opposing team, at Capitol Centre. Robin Ficker comes up as a listing when you google “Washington Bullets’ famous heckler”.

It still makes me chuckle when I think about the time that Ficker sat behind the Phoenix Suns’ bench and heckled Charles Barkley. He had a stick with a large plastic piece of broccoli hanging from it, and he just kept screaming, “Charles Broccoli, Charles Broccoli”. Barkley was so impressed with his “heckling” that he flew him out to the 1993 NBA Finals and bought Ficker a ticket, right behind the Chicago Bulls bench, to heckle Michael Jordan.

Now, dial forward to the athletes of today. It brings into question the rights of a fan, when they purchase a ticket to a sporting event. Usually, there is some kind of language on the back of the ticket that gives the facility or Stadium certain causes for removal, based on conduct of the spectator.

Causes for removal could include the expected reasons of using a laser pointer; setting off fireworks; failure to surrender a sign that might block the view of other fans; or, smoking in seating areas.

There is also usually a paragraph that includes some kind of the following: “abusive language directed toward players referees or other fans, disorderly conduct, abusive language, and public intoxication”. Does this language put a limitation on allowable heckling?

It used to be that, just hollering at players or fans, did not constitute a violation of any of those provisions. In fact, the Washington Bullets/Wizards never took action against anything that their famous heckler shouted or did, except that when they moved from Capitol Centre, to downtown D.C., and into their new home at the MCI Centre, they advised Ficker that all tickets behind the bench had already been purchased. They did provide him with the ability to still purchase season tickets. They just were not close to floor level.

On Friday night, while the Miami Heat were in Detroit, Lebron James and a fan exchanged words. (story here) James claimed that he heard the fan/heckler, mention and insult his mother.

James walked over to the fan and said, “I don’t care what you say to me. I don’t give a (expletive) what you say. But don’t be disrespectful.” The exchange took place during the first quarter and was picked up by the TV microphones. At no time was it alleged that the fan ever used any curse words.

When James said that to the fan, it was in earshot of the man’s two boys, who were also sitting court side with their father. Shortly thereafter, security advised the man that he would have to stop heckling the rest of the game, or he and his sons would be escorted from the game.

This brings us to the age old question of what you are entitled to do, when you purchase a ticket. The story does not say exactly what the man said. I suspect that the fact that he attacked James’ mother, or whatever he said, is probably considered to be going over the line from a judgment viewpoint. I’m not sure that it should qualify for cause, as a breach of his ticket purchase. The definition of heckling includes “trying to embarrass or annoy”.

I did find it interesting that no one seemed bothered that James used profanity in front of the man’s sons and also on the TV microphone. I guess that’s why Nike used to advertise that “we are all witnesses”. Maybe James believes he can do whatever he wants. Of course, no one was paying to see the heckler.

Freedom of Basketball Speak

The NBA basketball season is about to begin, which means that I will make a few trips up to Washington DC, to see the Washington Wizards. I have had some form of season tickets over the last several years. Currently, they are under the basket, where you can hear the players talking to each other, as well as the officials. It brings a different perspective to watching a game.

As a Wizards' fan, I have repeatedly seen Lebron James help to knock them out of the playoffs. If you visit most Wizard message boards, you will see that there is no love lost there, for Lebron and the Cleveland Cavaliers. In addition, if you watch closely, you constantly see James whining about calls and acting like he has suffered tremendous injury. (now you're seeing the fan come out of me!)

I have seen referees give him calls and allow him to take up to 5 steps, without dribbling the ball. Some call it a great conspiracy. Others just accept the fact that the NBA is built on stars and they should get the calls. No one is there to see the coaches or the bench players. Subsequently, its become a regular event to see Lebron go up for a layup, draw a little contact, and reach up to his lip to search for blood. Of course there's never any there.

    After watching this fake mouth trick repeatedly, I have taken to calling him "Mr Softee" or "Crybabe". From my seats, he is apparently able to hear me. After one such game, he came over to hug a woman 2 seats down, who turned out, I think, to be his mom. Then, he gave me the Lebron glare. It made the tickets so worthwhile!

I have done the above 4 paragraphs as a windup to the LA Times story that I just saw. Apparently, James was just asked who he would most like to dunk on. If you recall, there was a big story on how Nike confiscated a phone video that showed James getting "posterized" as it's called, when someone dunked on him at a camp. So,  he does know a little something about it.

Anyway, back to the Basketball free speech of this blog. His response as to who he would like to dunk on was not Kobe Bryant, who keeps showing him the difference between good and winning; It wasn't Dwight Howard, the center of the team that knocked Lebron out of the playoffs last year. No, his answer was former President George Bush.  James said. "I would dunk on [him], break the rim and shatter the glass."

I'm thankful for freedom of speech. Even fools can say what is on their mind. Plus, I can take a short blog topic and make it long.

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