Kyle Casey has seen firsthand the way a crowd can go from irrationally hostile to stone silent in a matter of two hours.
He calls it the Jeremy Lin Effect.
Casey was a freshman at Harvard in 2009-10 when Lin was setting gyms on fire as a senior. When they’d step on the floor, Casey would hear the taunts spilling from the bleachers toward Lin. Being Harvard’s leading scorer immediately made Lin a target. So did being Asian-American.
“He dealt with a lot of racial slurs and stuff like that,” Casey said.
If it ever pricked at Lin’s skin, he never let it show.
“I don’t know that Jeremy would hear anything,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “He’s just so laser-focused on what he was doing.”
He would quietly carve up his opponent, and with every basket slowly turn the volume down in the gym.
“I call it the Jeremy Lin Effect because I’ve never seen it so beautifully executed,” Casey said. “When someone walks in the gym and they get absolutely heckled for whatever reason and they walk out and you could damn near hear a pin drop.”
Now that he’s a senior, Casey thinks about it.
He sat out last season along with guard Brandyn Curry after being involved in a schoolwide cheating scandal. Since returning last fall, he and Curry have moved on.
That doesn’t mean opposing fans have.
Last weekend, against Brown and Yale, Casey was showered with chants of “Cheater!” from the visiting section of Lavietes Pavilion when he went to the free throw line.
Casey figured he would hear it at some point, and with the Crimson hitting the road for their first Ivy League back-to-back against Columbia and Cornell this weekend, he expects to hear it again.
“Oh, it’s coming,” he said. “It’s coming. That’s OK.”
When he talked to Casey about it before the season, Amaker told him he might as well brace himself.
“We knew it was going to come,” Amaker said. “We told those guys it was going to happen.”
In fact, Amaker joked that the rest of the team had already been through it.
“I also told them that we had to deal with it without him last year,” Amaker said. “So now they better be ready to deal with it. We’ve already dealt with it.”
Their circumstances might not be the same, but for Casey, there’s no better model for how to handle it than Lin.
“It doesn’t affect me,” Casey said. “I like playing in hostile environments. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Still, Casey is another example of the sometimes tense dynamic between players and fans. It reached a tipping point last Saturday when Oklahoma State star Marcus Smart spilled into the stands, was heckled by Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr as he picked himself off the ground, and in retaliation shoved the fan. Smart was suspended for three games by the Big 12 and Orr volunteered not to attend any more games this season.
Whether it’s how to respond to a hard foul or staying on the bench should something break out on the court, Amaker said he discusses it all with his players every season.
“We address things like that, we talk about how the bench should react,” Amaker said. “We show film or clips of other situations that go on on other teams so that we can learn.
“We have a phrase that we like to use. Learn from the mistakes of others because you won’t live long enough to make them all yourself. So we try to find things like that to show them that we can learn from XYZ team that played two nights ago in the Big West Conference or the Pac-12 Conference or whatever it is.”
While he didn’t condone Smart’s actions, Amaker did say fans should be held more responsible.
“I think we don’t do enough to say that’s not right, especially, I think, in terms of college athletics,” Amaker said. “We’re talking amateurs and college kids and students. I just don’t think there’s enough to hold others [responsible] in that regard. Just because you’re a fan, just because you bought a ticket, doesn’t give you a license in my opinion to act a certain way that’s uncalled for and just horrendous behavior, and we see that a lot. And that’s not just to players, that’s to coaches, that’s to officials.”
In his four years at Duke in the mid-1980s, Amaker saw the infamous Cameron Crazies at their wildly passionate height. The Blue Devils reached the NCAA Tournament every year Amaker was there, making a run to the national title game in 1986, and Duke fans had a reputation for terrorizing the teams that came to Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“There were some over the line taunts and chants and things,” Amaker said.
They were so venomous that then-university president Terry Sanford stepped in, writing a letter daring fans to keep the intensity dialed up but to dial down the disrespect.
“I don’t think we need to be crude and obscene to be effectively enthusiastic,” Sanford wrote. “We can cheer and taunt with style; that should be the Duke trademark. Crudeness, profanity, and cheapness should not be our reputation — but it is.”
Amaker saw the Crazies shift to a more inventive and creative but still rabid crowd.
“It was good because they took the message to heart about there’s just certain things that you just can’t do or shouldn’t do,” Amaker said.
For Casey, no matter what they say, he’ll tune it out.
“We know it’s coming,” Casey said. “It’s OK. What happened, happened. We’ve accepted it, we’ve learned from it, and we’ve moved on from it. So whether they’re yelling my name or calling me a cheater or talking about the scandal or anything else, I’ve still got to play the games.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.