America's Most Epic Sports Heckler
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
He’s a walking, talking good story, with some rubber chickens to boot.
By M.D. Reynolds
In the days when people actually watched local sports on the 11 o’clock news, Robin Ficker was the most famous sports heckler in America. When I was a kid in D.C., he was a fixture at Washington Bullets games, where, from courtside seats some rows in front of me and my dad, he berated the visiting team in a stream-of-consciousness harangue reinforced by a collection of props (a whiteboard, a copy of The Jordan Rules, a rubber chicken). Ficker would repeat the performance 41 nights a season.
For a kid like me attending his first games, Ficker was terrifying. I had actual anxiety about running into him at a concession stand, or worse still, the men’s room, where my bladder shyness would have spiraled out of control. But against a backdrop of public drunkenness and obscenity rife at arenas at the time, Ficker was different. “I never drank,” Ficker tells me. “And I’m in court every day. I don’t use profanity in there, so why would I [at games]?”
It’s that scholarly logic that served Ficker well logging long hours at the D.C. Superior Court, where he distinguished himself as one of the city’s best known and least liked defense attorneys. At one point he represented defendants in double and quadruple homicide cases, infamously saying they “wouldn’t hurt a fly” and were “very nice people,” thereby cementing public opinion in a city already known for embracing human wreckage (e.g., Marion Barry).
He was looking really tired, so I was just asking him, when he was feeling tired, if his mom gave him a hot bath and let him play with his little rubber ducky. Is that profane?
When the moribund Bullets finally moved from Capital Centre (sort of a wet cardboard box in the middle of nowhere) to their shiny new downtown arena in 1997, someone in the corridors of power decided that the new millennium must be Ficker-free. Denied season tickets anywhere near the floor (the wellspring of his power), Ficker began a protest of absence that snowballed into a 16-year moratorium. “I think [the ticket ban] came from the NBA commissioner [David Stern],” he says. “I was getting a lot of TV coverage and the NBA didn’t like that. But I was always saying nice things.”
Ficker, as the expression goes, took his ball and went home, but he was soon making waves as the University of Maryland wrestling team’s most intense superfan, commandeering meets that drew crowds in the dozens, not thousands.
His second act in basketball as heckling’s Lazarus was short — a return to the stands to watch the Wizards (formerly the Bullets) play Indiana in the 2014 playoffs. The game ended with Ficker embroiled in a feud with Pacers center and self-proclaimed God-fearer Roy Hibbert. “He was saying a lot of obscenities,” Hibbert told the press after the game. “Things I’m not going to tell you.”
Ficker’s recollections are somewhat different. “He was looking really tired, so I was just asking him, when he was feeling tired, if his mom gave him a hot bath and let him play with his little rubber ducky. Is that profane?” This is Fickermania through and through: uncomfortable, vaguely disgusting, totally unique.
Today’s NBA is a much-sanitized product, and the years have transformed Ficker’s legacy from league-wide lightning rod into cultural oddity — a curious, highly motivated basketball-loving Hazel Motes with an unslakable thirst for inane conflict.
“It’s a vicarious thrill,” says Ficker. “You start thinking you’re on the court … you’re part of it.”
- M.D. Reynolds, OZY AuthorContact M.D. Reynolds