Most Missouri basketball fans would make quite a sacrifice to have a courtside seat at Missouri’s final regular-season game at Hearnes Center on Sunday.
The seven-person official scoring crew working at the Missouri and Kansas game will not only have what Mike Nichols calls the “best seats in the house’’ at the scorers’ table, but it also will get paid to be involved in the action.
For Nichols, a longtime Missouri fan who has worked as an official scorer for nine years, this will be nothing new.
Asked about the greatest moments in Hearnes Center history, Nichols and the rest of his colleagues provide an entertaining walk down Missouri men’s and women’s basketball memory lane.
There’s the time Corey Tate played the unassuming hero, picking up a loose ball with the game tied at 94 in double overtime and made a 16-footer with 5.6 seconds left to hand No. 1 Kansas its first loss of the 1996-97 season.
Jeff Gregg, a longtime Missouri fan who has worked the scoreboard at Missouri women’s basketball games since 1994, says he thinks the game is without a doubt the best at Hearnes Center.
Nichols would beg to differ, saying the Tigers’ 112-109 quadruple overtime win against Iowa State on Jan. 31, 2001, is the best game he has seen at Hearnes Center.
Bob Howard, who began working at the scorers table 15 years ago and works the game clock at women’s basketball games, recalls when Erika Martin leaped onto the scorers’ table after making a 35-foot shot at the buzzer to give Missouri a 72-69 win against Memphis in 1995.
Curtis Bohl, who has specialized in scoreboard messaging at Hearnes Center since 1983, says one of his favorite memories came in 1994 when Nebraska’s Eric Piatkowski had a 3-point shot roll in and out as time expired, allowing Missouri to cap a 14-0 season in the Big Eight with a 80-78 win.
The women’s basketball team’s fights against Oklahoma in 1987 and Kansas in January are popular memories, as are several disappointing men’s and women’s losses.
Nichols says though his job provides many great memories and might sound glamorous, it is not as easy as it seems.
“Organized chaos is what it is,” Nichols said. “I mean you’ve got officials coming over talking to you and coaches asking questions. You’ve got players checking in and a made basket, a free throw and somebody on the foul all at once.”
Nichols, 55, works at Shelter Insurance. Nichols also grew up in Columbia, and he says his close ties to Missouri do not make working at the scorers’ table easier.
“I’ve been a Missouri fan all along so it is difficult to separate it,” Nichols said. “You want to get up and applaud a great play but you can’t because as the table crew you are part of the officiating crew and you can’t do that.”
None of the members of the scorers’ table crew complains about the unique vantage point, but at times being so close to the action has its drawbacks.
Jason Sutherland, a 6-foot-1 guard who played at Missouri from 1993-97, was a player known for chasing any loose ball.
On one occasion, Sutherland jumped over the scorers’ table while trying to save the ball and plowed into Bohl, who was sitting at a computer inputting a message on the scoreboard.
Nichols and Gregg say Bohl never stopped typing despite being knocked from his chair and Bohl said he had the marks to prove the spill for a few days.
“I had a bruise for like a week on my arm and it turned all yellow,” Bohl said. “I also got a knee in my back as I fell into the first row of people behind us.”
On another occasion, Nichols became much more involved in a game than he expected.
Missouri led No. 3 Kansas 57-53 with 8:11 left in a typically heated battle between the rivals Jan. 19, 1998.
Missouri’s Monte Hardge grabbed a defensive rebound and raised his arms to make an outlet pass and made contact with Kansas’ Eric Chenowith, who flopped to the ground, drawing an offensive foul on Hardge.
The Missouri fans roared with disapproval when referee Tom O’Neil went to the scorers’ table to report the foul. Nichols, who was keeping track of statistics and sitting directly to the right of the official scorer, simultaneously shook his head to let a fellow statistician know he was not sure whom the foul was against.
Nichols’ head motion caught O’Neil’s attention and set off a major misunderstanding.
“O’Neil looks at me and then comes over here and slaps the table and says, ‘Don’t you ever criticize one of my calls again,’” Nichols said. “I stood up and said, ‘What are you talking about?’”
Little did Nichols know a nationwide television audience saw the confrontation.
“The game was on Big Monday and shown nationwide on ESPN,” Nichols said. “Tuesday the next day I got at least 200 phone calls from people I hadn’t seen in years.”
Although Nichols said he and O’Neil have since discussed the situation and there are no hard feelings, the story does not end there. After O’Neil returned to the court, Missouri coach Norm Stewart walked down the sideline to see what caused the confrontation.
When O’Neil turned and saw Stewart out of the coaches’ box, he charged Stewart with a technical foul.
Luckily for the Tigers, Kansas’ Ryan Robertson missed both free throws and Kansas didn’t score on its ensuing possession.
The Tigers ended up winning the game 74-73, but Nichols said his memory of the game after the confrontation is mostly a blur.
“I get people reminding me of that even now,” Nichols said. “I’ll tell you that we don’t want to be a part of the game like that though. That’s really the last thing we want.
Despite all their fond memories of Hearnes Center, most scorers’ table crew members are not too sentimental about moving to a new arena next season.
“I’ll be glad doing this in any building,” Howard said. “If anything, we can look forward to better equipment, so that will be good.”