If you follow James Madison basketball — or just enjoy watching NCAA play-in games between 16 seeds — you likely saw the skinny, purple-painted, fist-pumping JMU fan pictured here on Wednesday night.
What you might not have realized was that this fan — sophomore media arts and design major Brian Reese — actually began his body-painting adventures nearly two weeks ago, at the CAA tournament semifinals in Richmond. Reese — a native of Virginia’s Eastern Shore who became increasingly devoted to Dukes basketball as this regular-season went on — had a friend’s mother draw the “The Electric Zoo” in purple on his chest, surrounded by purple animal prints, and accented by gold lightning bolts on his arms.
Then he got to the arena, ambled down to the floor and removed his shirt, at which point he caught the attention of arena security.
“I hate to be that guy,” one guard told him, “but you’ve got to put it back on.”
So Reese got a concessions staffer to hack the sleeves off his shirt with a knife, at least letting the world see the lightning bolts, and his guns.
Anyhow, James Madison went on to claim the CAA title and an NCAA berth, its first in nearly two decades. Reese, of course, pledged to go see the team in its initial NCAA glory, which wound up being at Wednesday’s play-in game in Dayton. And before he left, he checked on arena rules.
“Shoot yes, you can do it,” he discovered, procuring some purple paint from Michaels to re-purplelurize himself.
Turns out the paint he bought was not appropriate for body use, and so Reese spent the final 90 minutes of a seven-hour bus ride applying chapstick-sized purple face paint to his entire face and torso — hence the slight striations visible above — while a friend drew a large gold zero on his back.
NCAA tournament sites, oddly, are often devoid of fanaticism, especially for play-in games. Thus, the half-naked skinny kid with purple pants and high purple socks was a big hit, posing for photos with random fans and James Madison’s current and past president, slapping five with kids, and generally spreading the gospel of Dukedom.
“It was just a great way of being able to connect to people who don’t know our school,” he told me. “They were like ‘Hey, purple man, come talk to us.’ And I was trying to talk to whoever I could, because no one knew who we were. I think it helped at least some people get on our side.”
In any case, Reese was eventually rewarded with his fist-pumping, high-intensity appearance on the game broadcast, which led to Gifs and blog posts and captions and more captions and a conversation with his mother.
“She called me and she was like, ‘Brian, put your shirt on.’ ” he recalled. “I was like, ‘No, I can’t.'”
And after the Dukes earned a glorious triumph and a Friday date with Indiana, the students got back on the bus, arriving in Harrisonburg around 6 a.m. Reese, still purple, went to bed for a few hours, and then went to class, purple face and all. Tour groups stared. Classmates posed for yet more photos. People told him he was famous.
Obviously he’s going to the Indiana game, despite yet another seven-hour round-trip bus ride to Dayton. Obviously he’ll be purple again, this time through the use of actual body paint. He’s also planning on buying a gold crown, to add another dimension to the look.
“You always want your school’s name to be out there; you want to be on SportsCenter, to show how great your school is,” he explained. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. And you’ll see me purple again. Who doesn’t want to see this body?”