Maybe is just a reflection of how complacent we’ve all become – how much we take for granted the phalanx of security that is now ever-present in our lives. But no one seems to be overly alarmed that a young fan ambled onto the floor of Madison Square Garden last night (Madison Square Garden!) with just a few seconds remaining in the game between the Knicks and LeBron James (and oh, the Cavs were there, too) and got close enough to shake LeBron’s hand and pat him on the back and shoulder before security caught up to him and hauled the kid away.
Seventeen-year-old Anthony Erskine of Mount Vernon, N.Y. headed towards James as the superstar walked to the bench just before the end of the Cavs 119-105 win. Cavs guard Devin Brown said: “Out of the corner of my eye, I just saw him running. He was going straight to LeBron and LeBron was standing right behind me, so I tried to keep him back because he was coming pretty good. I just wanted to make sure he didn’t have any (weapons) in his hands. I just gave him a forearm. (The fan) said ‘What’s up’ to him and shook his hand, and security got to him.”
I watched it unfold on television, and, was stunned. Thankfully, the incident was no more than a footnote to LeBron’s majestic 50-point, 10-assist, 8 rebound performance. It could have been a lot worse.
It could have been Monica Seles.
LeBron probably isn’t old enough to remember the incident that changed the sports arena experience forever. He wasn’t yet nine years old when Günter Parche, a crazed Seles fan, walked down from the stands behind where the top-ranked tennis player sat during a changeover and stabbed her in the middle of her back. Seles screamed like an actress in one of the Halloween films, and was rushed to a hospital. She survived the attack abut didn’t return to the tennis court for two years. She won the Australian Open in 1993 but was never really the same player. Not even close.
And we weren’t the same fans. Suddenly our sports icons where flanked by bodyguards at every turn. We were scanned and frisked going into events. Tennis matches now feature burly folks who stand behind players during changeovers and stare at us. In fact, someone probably stares at you at some juncture during any game you attend – college or pro.
LeBron, youngster that he is, blew the incident off, at least publicly. “It was a great feeling, to get a fan to come down there and express the way he feels about you,” James said later. “He (said) he loves the way I play, I was his favorite player. I respect him, I respect his pride, and for him to come out there and tell me something like that face-to-face, it’s like an unbelievable thing – it never happens.”
Maybe someone should show the harrowing images of Seles (below) that remain etched in the mind of anyone who recalls that frightening day. Or maybe she should just call him and tell him how her body recovered but her mind never did. How she had fears long after the loser was jailed. How perhaps she still does.
Call me alarmist, if you want. But someone fell asleep. And someone could have been hurt. Or killed. A Knicks spokesperson said security nabbed him “within 15 seconds.” But, really, how long does it take to change a life – forever?