It got weird again for Alabama in the SEC basketball tournament.
It’s the life of a team at the center of a controversial spotlight on the big stage of major college basketball. Every day is something different that breaks down the wall separating sport as entertainment and sport as a sign of the times.
The spotlight only grows with the wins, and now Alabama is in the SEC Tournament Championship Game after beating Missouri 72-61 on Saturday. Alabama plays Texas A&M at noon Sunday at Bridgestone Arena.
On Friday, Alabama’s first day in the SEC tournament, the Tuscaloosa District Attorney’s Office announced that basketball player Darius Miles had been indicted by a grand jury for capital murder. The news came as his former teammates were playing a game against Mississippi State.
For games I’ve covered as a sportswriter, this one falls near the top for the weirdest day at the office.
On Saturday, some bewildered fans in the arena entered the whirlwind and offered a glimpse of an aspect of Alabama history that peddles in the grotesque, with fans celebrating a tragic murder. In the SEC, where the league defends itself with the slogan “it just means more,” things can go wrong pretty quickly.
And that was the case in Nashville on day three of the SEC tournament.
Alabama played early in the game against Missouri, which started at noon. In the second game of the day, it was Vanderbilt against Texas A&M, and the home team lost to the Aggies 87-75. With Vanderbilt playing Game 2, why, then, was a vocal group of Vanderbilt students screaming as loud as they could an hour before the Alabama game started?
To heckle Alabama star Brandon Miller with obnoxious “Bran-don Kill-er” chants, of course.
Vandy is the SEC’s “smart school,” but some of his students that day were only using half their brains.
The students should have been expelled from the arena. Instead, they were allowed to stay and watch with everyone as Miller took control of the game. Miller is the player who carried the gun to the scene where Harris was shot and killed. Amidst it all, Miller played well on the court and improved his projected value as a future pro. Against Mizzou, he finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and four assists, and completely dominated the run of play from the start of the second half until the buzzer.
And he didn’t do it without making a little noise himself.
” Lets go [expletive] go!” Miller shouted over the press line and towards the crowd during a stoppage. Sitting in the front row, close enough to catch some of Miller’s sweat and spit, was the commissioner of the SEC, Greg Sankey.
Nothing wrong with a bit of performance art for the fans. Miller isn’t a pro yet, but he already understands his role as an artist.
Miller’s presence on the court, given its proximity to Harris’ death, has made Alabama basketball a flashpoint, but I can only shake my head in disgust at the actions of a couple of self-proclaimed Alabama fans who attended the game. On Saturday, two grown men — not college students, to be clear — wore Alabama shirts that read, “Kill our way through the SEC in 23.” When approached for comment by AL.com, one of the men told colleague John Talty to “take the [expletive] out of my face.
It’s unfair, of course, to tie an entire fan base to the actions of a degenerate couple, but the shirts are notable for understanding the toxic fan culture that hovers around Alabama playoff basketball. Fanbases opposed to the Alabama SEC also share guilt for creating this muck the SEC is now trudging through. From the moment news of Miles’ arrest broke, an element of SEC fans celebrated aloud the opportunity to amplify Alabama’s mistakes along the way.
Wanting the worst for Alabama as an opposing fan is not the same as wanting justice for Harris’ death, and the nuance of distinction isn’t hard to understand. It’s the difference between dignity and shame.
How we got here will continue to haunt Alabama and create awkward scenes for the SEC at one of its signature events.
Indeed, the shooting death of Jamea Harris, 23, of Birmingham on January 15 will go down as the most significant moment of this season for the Alabama basketball team. Miles was charged with aiding and abetting an alleged murder when, according to police, he passed a gun to his friend Michael Davis. Davis then used this weapon to allegedly assassinate Harris.
Compared to the events of that night, these games are just another sideshow, and the wall separating sports entertainment and social accusation continues to fall.
Joseph Goodman is the senior sports columnist for the Alabama Media Group, and author of “We Want Bama: A season of hope and the formation of Nick Saban’s ‘ultimate team'”. You can find him on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.