CHICAGO (CBS) — Organizers of a neighborhood summer basketball program said trash talking on social media is apparently what led to fights breaking out off-the-court at the United Center this week during the program’s championship games.
Officials for the West Haven Safe Summer Basketball League said they learned after Monday’s games had to be canceled, with several thousand fans inside the United Center and thousands of others outside, that 12- and 13-year olds had planned on social media to disrupt the championship event.
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“Some of the individuals involved in the brawl were actually 12- and 13-years of age. They were planning to meet a rival group of individuals at the United Center and use that as a platform to engage in the activities that they did,” said Program director Oji Eggleston.
Earnest Gates, executive director of the Near West Side Community Development Corporation and one of the organizers of the summer basketball league said, “the difference was it went out on social media and we have no control over it and they said they were going to shake it up.”
Gates became emotional as he said he wants the event to return to the United Center next year so kids will get a chance to play on the same basketball court as their NBA heroes, but he’s not sure that will happen.
“You have to see the look on those kids faces to appreciate what we do,” Gates said.
He said the trouble caused Monday was the first in the program’s nine year history.
This was the 5th year the championships were being held at the United Center. The previous four years, the event was held at Crane High School and Phoenix Military Academy. The three games canceled Monday night will be played Wednesday at Crane.
Gates does not blame the United Center security for what happened Monday night. He said there was more than enough security on hand.
The United Center has issued a statement that, since it opened in 1994, the United Center has “hosted thousands of events and millions of fans, rarely encountering any security issues”.
The statement goes on to say that it has supported the West Haven Safe Summer Basketball League championships for many years. “It has always been our belief that when we can give back to our community with events such as this, our entire community benefits.”
The United Center said the incident Monday night “was initiated by a few individuals at the expense of many more.”
The statement does not say whether the event would take place at the United Center next summer.
Gates calls the Safe Summer Basketball League program, “a jewel” and “more than just that brawl”.