When he was finally released from police custody, Jay Bassich knew just where he’d go. He hadn’t showered or slept in a couple of days, but he simply had to return to the scene of the crime.
“I didn’t even really question it,” he said.
On Saturday night, the 22-year old Capitals fan was arrested for climbing a streetlight during a spirited postgame celebration in Chinatown following Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals. He wasn’t freed until Monday around 5 p.m., and headed straight for F Street, where fans were already gathering for the start of Game 4.
“It was just where I wanted to be,” he said in an interview Tuesday morning.
The Caps’ improbable run this spring has excited a long cynical fan base, inspiring many to test the boundaries of their fandom: spending thousands of dollars on tickets, driving across the country, flying around the globe or, like Bassich, shimmying up a giant light pole.
Videos of Bassich started going viral Saturday night, showing an enthusiastic fan clad in a red Caps jersey near the top of a streetlight, about 30 feet off the ground. Hundreds of fans cheered him on, snapping photos and shooting video. Police were not as amused, and Bassich was arrested as soon as he was coaxed down from the pole.
For more than 40 hours, his family didn’t hear from him. They only knew the charges he was facing, and they sounded plenty serious: climbing the pole, resisting arrest and two counts disorderly conduct, one for inciting violence and one for creating fear. Because he was arrested on a Saturday night, he had to wait until Monday for prosecutors to decide whether to pursue the charges and send him in for an initial court appearance.
“We thought it’d be some drunk story,” his brother Dennis Bassich said in an interview Monday afternoon. “We figured he’d get community service or something.”
Bassich was being held at the First District police station in Southwest and had plenty of time in a holding cell to relive the hours that led up to his arrest. The brothers had attended the team-sponsored watch parties for Games 1 and 2 at Capital One Arena. They returned to the neighborhood Saturday for the Caps’ first home game of the Stanley Cup finals, and spent the night bar-hopping around Chinatown. When the Caps secured the win, the brothers took to the streets, joining thousands of others to celebrate outside the arena.
“We’re both die-hard sports fans,” Dennis said. “We grew up in Silver Spring. We’ve never seen anything like that. We were too young the last time they made it. The Redskins have been subpar. The Nats hadn’t quite made it. The Wizards are the Wizards. This is something we hadn’t experienced in our lifetime.”
“It was really just an exciting atmosphere,” Jay said, “unlike anything I’ve experienced or been a part of. We were all standing around cheering, and I was just hoping we could kick it up a notch. I was hoping someone would do something cool. Everyone’s there to have a good time, but we’re just standing around cheering. I guess I wanted something a little more.”
That’s when he noticed the streetlight.
“I just went for it,” he said. “I’ve always been a pretty good climber.”
Phones came out, social media started lighting up, and the police took notice. Said Jay Bassich: “My heart was pounding like 10,000 miles a minute.”
His brother likened Bassich to “the Capitals’ hype man” at that moment, saying “it’d be no different than Slapshot [the mascot] climbing the pole and trying to get people hyped. He was just trying to inspire people.”
The police clearly felt otherwise. According to an incident report, as officers tried to bring Bassich down from the light pole, “pedestrians began throwing beer cans at officers as [Bassich] cheered from the top of the light pole.”
D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said Monday that Bassich was the only person arrested during the Game 3 postgame celebrations. Others climbed poles, Newsham said, but came down when police ordered them to do so.
“To have an event of this size with this many people and have only one arrest is good,” Newsham said.
Bassich was still feeding off the adrenaline Saturday night, assuming he’d be released the next morning. Instead, he had to wait until Monday for police and prosecutors to decide his fate.
While his family was increasingly worried, Bassich said he was optimistic his punishment would be light. His interviews, he said, gave him a pretty good idea that charges would be dropped.
“The officers and everyone . . . [were] giving me fist-bumps and stuff,” he said.
The U.S. attorney’s office says it reviewed the case against Bassich and decided on Monday afternoon not to pursue the charges.
“I really wasn’t trying to cause any harm,” Bassich said. “It seemed like a victimless crime. I knew what I was doing up there. I think it was pretty harmless. Was it a lack of maturity or just something that was pretty cool? I’m still teetering a bit between the two.”
And while Sunday and Monday were long days, he doesn’t think he’ll regret his decision. He’d been waiting a long time for D.C. sports to give him something to cheer about. So when he was finally released, he collected his belonging and walked across the Mall, arriving near the arena shortly before the puck dropped for Game 4. He stayed for the first period; once the Caps built a 3-0 lead, he started heading back to his apartment.
He was at home when the fans spilled onto the streets and another postgame celebration began shaking Chinatown. Nearly 48 hours later, there’d be no more pole climbing for Bassich.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “No second round with the lamp post for me.”
Peter Hermann and Sarah Larimer contributed to this report.
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