Sports fandom is cruel. You invest so much, pour your heart and soul into the games, but you know deep down that there isn’t much you can do about the success of your team. You’ll cheer, you’ll wear your lucky jersey, but the result is ultimately decided between the lines, on the court.
But for a certain type of fan, overcome by a craving for victory, this simply won’t suffice. They’ll do anything they can to effect the outcome of the game. College basketball fans seated on the baseline, desperate for any edge they can provide, have devised a number of ways to worm their way into opponents’ heads during their most vulnerable moment: free throws.
It works, too. A New York Times statistical rundown showed that fans who bring the heat to their free throw distraction game made a significant difference on their opponent’s free throw shooting. At Arizona State, where the fans have mastered the art of free throw distraction, opponents shoot 8.7% worse than at their home stadiums!
If you’re a slightly more passionate than normal college basketball fan—not quite good enough to suit up and make a difference on the hardwood, but still athletic enough to, say, dance in a speedo—here’s how you can contribute to a win by breaking the opposing shooter’s concentration at the line.
Patrick King, Duke’s “Speedo Guy,” famously managed to get to UNC guard Jackie Manuel back in 2003. But the tradition of a Rubenesque swimsuit-clad young man gyrating for the cause of victory didn’t end with him.
Check out this Northern Iowa fan, who accented his speedo with a tutu. The fringe gives him a certain grace that sets him apart.
This Northwestern fan managed to induce a brick by amping up the seduction. Check out the profound energy radiating from his chest hair.
The Trash Can Man Can
You don’t have to flaunt your physique to make a contribution. The Houston Cougars of the AAC have been one of college basketball’s on-the-rise programs over the last few years, and this season, they got a free throw performer that really embodies their underdog vibe.
“The Trash Can Man” lives an experience of college basketball most of us can’t even imagine. Houston sophomore Luis Lemus dons a full coat of body paint, hops in a giant red plastic trash bin, and gets wheeled out onto the baseline...where he waits for his moment to strike. He sits in the bin all game, streaming the action on his phone (“I don’t want to miss a moment,” he says), and waits for a signal of three knocks. Then Trash Can Man flies out of the bin like a demented muppet, ready to cause chaos.
His efforts don't come without a price. The trash can is hot, crouching on the ground all game is “a little hard on the knees,” and the experience is clearly somewhat disorienting (“I could hear the roar of the crowd inside the trash can but had to wait to see what happened. I knew when something big was about to happen”). But it’s worth it, just to see the Cougars’ opponents clank iron.
Behind The Curtain
No fans have taken the art of distracting free throw shooters to greater heights than the Arizona State Sun Devils' student body. They employ an ingenious device known as “The Curtain of Distraction,” a black curtain on the baseline that conceals all sorts of bizarre theater pieces, all with the purpose of taking opposing free throw shooters' heads out of the game.
It’s absolutely insidious. The human mind is a magnificent machine, but it’s prone to the temptations of anticipation. Think of the experience of darkness in a horror movie—the tension of the unknown, a craving for catharsis. Even an elite athlete, laser-focused on the task of shooting a free throw as he’s done a thousand times before, can’t help but see the black curtain in his peripheral vision and wonder: what’s gonna come out of there?
The answer to that question can shake men to their bones. Be warned: these diversions can be upsetting. Watch this frizzy-haired fan appear to devour mayonnaise with a spoon, then try to keep the image out of your nightmares (or dreams, depending on how much you like mayo).
Even the most decorated Olympian in history got in on the act back in 2016. Witness Michael Phelps popping out from behind the Curtain of Distraction. The glare from his gold medals is a nice touch.
Sometimes, the stunts are less sophisticated. Rapper YG stood next to a guy in a dog mask, swinging a little plastic axe. Okay, sure.
Then there are the logical invocations, tricks to bewilder the mind. Watch ANOTHER curtain come out from behind the curtain, then see a man in a black suit and a man and a white suit be combined into a man in a checkered suit by a magician behind THAT curtain. A curtain inside of a curtain. Free throw distraction Inception.
It’s a total team effort, with staff behind the scenes patching up squirrel costumes and moving people around to produce this foul line cabaret. Fandom becomes theater, a spectacle as transcendent as the action between the lines. Kind of.
We celebrate these many brave artists and the lengths they go to stifle their opponents. Tune in to this year’s NCAA March Madness in anticipation of their next contribution to the art of distraction.