How much is too much?

“Hey Michael! How much do you want to bet on this game?” The scene was the 1993 NBA Finals in Phoenix, and it was loud, braying and, for fans at the time, as familiar as the strains of NBC’s “Roundball Rock.” This was Robin Ficker, the NBA’s extraordinary basketball player, who was doing what he did best: penetrating deep into the skulls of the NBA’s elite.

A D.C. district defense attorney until he was fired earlier this year, Vicker spent much of the ’80s and ’90s on the field cheering for the team then known as The Bullets (now known as The Wizards), tearing up every opposing player who came across Washington. . Isiah Thomas threw a shoe at him. Once, Frank Layden, the former Jazz coach, spat on him. The Blazers’ Kevin Duckworth once had to be restrained from getting into the stands and separating Vicker like a chicken wing.

Vicker even had the ability to piss off Michael Jordan himself, which Phoenix ended up mocking Jordan, holding up a copy of a book alleging that Jordan was an inveterate gambler. Vicker got a seat closer to the field through Charles Barkley, whose Suns were playing the two-time defending champion Bulls and needed every advantage they could get. (It didn’t work.)

As it turned out, the Phoenix security wasn’t as forgiving as Vicker’s hometown marksman, and Vicker bounced off the square in the first quarter. A few years later, when Washington moved to a new arena, Vicker found that his stadium seats were no longer available for him to purchase. Around the same time, the National Basketball Association (NBA) created a code of conduct that prohibited fans from eavesdropping on players during timeouts; The informally named Ficker rule remains in effect today.

Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena is literally a world away from the NBA’s domain, but Novak Djokovic spent a frustrating evening there at the Australian Open this week virtually begging for something similar to the Vicker rule. As he powered his way to a four-set victory over French qualifier Enzo Quacode, Djokovic was played through constant harassment by a quartet of Australian fans dressed as “Where’s Waldo” characters.

Some Australian Open sponsors couldn't care less about Novak Djokovic.  (Drian Trainor/Getty Images)

Some Australian Open sponsors couldn’t care less about Novak Djokovic. (Drian Trainor/Getty Images)

The heckling continued for so long that at one point in the third set, another fan yelled for Waldos to shut up, inspiring a “thank you” from Djokovic. Finally, in the fourth set, Djokovic approached referee Fergus Murphy and begged him to step in.

“You know who it is,” Djokovic said, pointing to the crowd. “The man is drunk out of his mind. From the first moment he’s been provoking, provoking. He’s not here to watch tennis. He just wants to get in my head. So I ask you, what are you going to do about it? You’ve heard it at least 10 times. You’ve heard it 50 times. What are you going to do about it?” ?

Djokovic makes an attractive target for harassment for multiple reasons. He’s the best tennis player in the world, and it’s always fun to hit the ball at the top dog. He lacks the charisma, charisma and general goodwill of fellow stars Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer. He can appear arrogant, conceited, and condescending, but unlike many of his wiser peers, he actually shows this side of himself to the public. In addition, his staunch refusal to vaccinate, even at the cost of playing in the major leagues, has outraged vaccine advocates around the world.

And the Waldos — or Wallis, as they’re called outside North America — didn’t exactly seem like they were making subtle political points about Djokovic’s vaccine stance. Beer in hand, veins bulging on their necks as they screamed, Waldus continued to harass Djokovic until they were finally escorted from the arena by security. Not that they ever thought of themselves in such terms, but Waldo does raise an important question in our rough, rambunctious, post-lockdown age: How annoying is too much?

When the harassment goes away

Remember the days after most lockdowns ended and fans were finally back in the arenas? Most were happy just to be back watching live sports again, but a few acted like little kids they had just released after being confined to their rooms. In the span of 48 hours in 2021, a Knicks fan spat on Trae Young in Atlanta, a Sixers fan threw popcorn at Russell Westbrook and Jazz fans insulted Ja Morant’s family… This wasn’t exactly high level harassment going on here, this was basically assault.

Narrowing in and of itself is not a sin; Being able to give a little grief to the opposing team, or to an underperforming member of your team, is the right—in some cases, I say, the duty and the obligation—of any good fan. Certainly, location is a consideration; You don’t want to go screaming for a player to miss a shot at the 18th at Augusta National unless you want to ban yourself and the next five generations from your line. But if you’re not going to swing when the opponent is on the board in the late innings or on the free-throw line at a crucial moment, give up your seat to someone who will.

Heckling thus operates on a sliding scale, an algebraic formula that takes into account the sport being played, the location, the vitality, the aim, and most importantly, the intelligence of the checkers themselves. That is why Vicker often managed to get under the skin of opponents – he was never defiled. Shouting “F – you!” In the player is easy; Reading the uncomfortable pages of their biographies out loud is even more devastating.

Obviously there are limits, such as physically assaulting a player, shouting racial slurs, or straying far from the bounds of good taste – for example, making fun of a player’s recently deceased mother. Djokovic’s hecklers clearly didn’t say anything offensive enough to get them kicked out of the Rod Laver Arena on their own merits, but they kept going over and over again. on me.

Djokovic: There is a limit

In his post-match press conference, Djokovic explained his reasoning for asking the chair to take action, even knowing it would be seen as a “bad guy” for throwing a fan out of the ring.

“Why do we as players have to be put in a situation where we always have to respond when two hours have passed? It’s not ten minutes,” Djokovic said. “I can take five or six times someone says something to me, but there is a limit and that has been crossed.” limit.”

This limit is the key to the troubling question and a moving target. Many fans believe that their card entitles them to express their opinions about an opponent, often in large numbers. It’s a right they’ll defend by saying the players are rich, so they should just sit there and take the abuse. (This line of reasoning doesn’t hold up well when insulting college umpires or minor league umpires, for example, but common sense doesn’t factor into the auditor’s calculations.)

To be sure, living life in the public eye—and cashing big checks funded by the public’s attention—comes with its inherent flaws. You present yourself to the world, and you forfeit much of your right to complain if the world generally doesn’t like you. A player can’t be as suave as, say, Ian Poulter, who once had a shepherd kicked out in Augusta for mocking his pants. But players shouldn’t give away their dignity, so some rows of five cheerleaders can spell out their heritage or their scent.

Back when Vicker was doing his act in Washington, comedians who worked the kinds of nightclubs with brick walls as backdrops had a standard hack response to hecklers: “Would you like it if I came over to where you work and rocked a Slurpee machine?” As cheesy as the ’80s era is, it’s a good point: How many of us can handle someone shouting on the spot, harsh reviews of our performance every minute we’re on the job?

Imagine a crew of Waldos taunting you throughout your workday, then imagine not being allowed to put them in intensive care, or even fight back, without drawing a chain of boos. Kind of puts a new perspective on Djokovic, right? Dripping can be fun…as long as you’re not the one being yelled at.

Novak Djokovic pleads his case at the Australian Open.  (Martin Cape/AFP via Getty Images)

Novak Djokovic pleads his case at the Australian Open. (Martin Cape/AFP via Getty Images)

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Contact Jay Busbee at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.

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