There are aggrieved basketball fans, and then there are aggrieved Kentucky basketball fans. Referee John Higgins now knows the difference, sadly.
Higgins was part of the officiating crew for Sunday’s South Region final between the Wildcats and North Carolina, a game won by the Tar Heels on a last-second shot by Luke Maye. Kentucky kept the score close despite being whistled for 19 fouls, with Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo getting two each in the first half alone to help put the Wildcats in a five-point halftime deficit.
“You know, it’s amazing that we were in that game where they practically fouled out my team,” Kentucky Coach John Calipari said after the game. “Amazing that we had a chance.”
Wildcats fans soon began to take it out on Higgins after the game, first by posting negative reviews of his Omaha-based roofing company on sites such as Yelp and Facebook:
That’s bad enough, but some Kentucky fans have taken things to an even more obnoxious and illegal level, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman and Dana O’Neil. They report that law enforcement has gotten involved after Higgins received death threats and other harassing calls to his home phone — which carries an unlisted number — and business line.
Sources tell Goodman and O’Neil that Higgins’s phones have been “ringing off the hook.”
According to the National Association of Sports Officials, 23 states have laws that specifically protect sports officials from harm or harassment. Nebraska isn’t one of them, and Kentucky’s law only applies to officials who suffer a physical injury or are threatened with injury in the arena or stadium itself, or in the immediate vicinity. Nevertheless, making a death threat is something that police will want to look into, though the legal precedent for what rises to the level of a so-called “true threat” is surprisingly muddled. In any case, it’s a horrible look for some members of Big Blue Nation.
Higgins must have done something right in Sunday’s game: The ESPN scribes report that he will work one of Saturday’s Final Four games in Arizona, an honor the NCAA doles out only to the 10 officials who have done what it considers the best job throughout the tournament.