Ficker Won't Be the Mouth That Roars at MCI
By Thomas Heath
The Washington Wizards are moving downtown to the new MCI Center without their most notorious fan. Robin Ficker, whose heckling of opposing players forced the NBA to change its rules on fan behavior, will no longer be in the stands on a regular basis when the team, formerly known as the Bullets, takes the court this fall.
Ficker said yesterday that he did not renew his season tickets, in part because his two seats directly behind the opposing team's bench at US Airways Arena were going to be relocated to a location underneath the basket when the team moves to the new arena. The Wizards will begin playing at MCI Center on Dec. 2.
The Bethesda lawyer and former Maryland representative was a fixture at Bullets games for 12 years, often clad in a homemade Bullets T-shirt and always berating opposing players from his perch in the front row. He was known and disliked by players and many of his fellow fans for trying to psyche out and distract the opposing team by reading aloud passages from books about their lives, holding up rubber chickens or shouting at players through a megaphone as they huddled with their coaches. Some fans, however, enjoyed Ficker.
"I sent a letter to [Wizards owner] Abe Pollin saying it was a shame he treated loyal fans that way," Ficker said. "I told him I love the NBA players but not the owners."
Wizards spokesman Matt Williams said Ficker's $200-per-game VIP seats for a time were among several set aside for possible use by physically disabled fans. Williams said the team decided to withhold some seats while it was being sued by the Paralyzed Veterans of America for noncompliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The Wizards have agreed to put the arena in compliance with standards for people with disabilities.
"It has nothing to do with disability," said Ficker, adding that he had more seniority than other fans in the same row. He said the NBA and Wizards wanted to silence him but cost was a factor, too.
With two seats, he said, "I would be spending $400 a night for entertainment, which is a lot." He also said he would be devoting his time to secure the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat from Maryland in 2000.
The Bullets had a love/hate relationship with Ficker, whose monologues often distracted the opposing team but sometimes annoyed fans who sat near him. Longtime Boston Celtics coach and general manager Red Auerbach, speaking at a Smithsonian Institution forum earlier this year, called Ficker a "disgrace" and called on Pollin to take away his tickets.
But Ficker had his fans. Charles Barkley, then with the Phoenix Suns, paid Ficker's travel expenses to sit behind the opposing Chicago Bulls during a playoff game several years ago. Ficker said that because of him, the NBA created a rule printed on the back of every season ticket application, prohibiting fans from engaging in verbal abuse that interferes with communication between coaches and players.
"Anything I have said could be printed in a family newspaper," Ficker said. "I never said one thing I regret."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company