Organizers: Kids as young as 12 behind United Center basketball brawl

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The United Center was shut down Monday evening when fights broke out during a high school championship basketball game. | Photo courtesy of Fox 32 News

Kids as young as 12 years old — scheming on social media — were at least partly to blame for the brawl that forced the cancellation of a teen basketball tournament at the United Center earlier this week, organizers of the event said Wednesday.

And a sometimes tearful Earnest Gates, host of the West Haven Safe Summer Basketball League, contradicted the city’s top cop, saying the tournament security was “more than adequate.”

“It’s like having a bomber — if they’re hell-bent on exploding a bomb, they’re going to do it. There’s not a lot of security that you can put in place to prevent that,” Gates said, talking to reporters Wednesday on the West Side.

A statement posted on the United Center said the incident was “initiated by a few individuals at the expense of many more,” adding: “To shift the fault of this to anyone other than those who caused it, is an insult to the overwhelming majority of people who were there with good intentions, as well as a professional building staff that has historically operated with the utmost professionalism and integrity, most notably in matters of security. Anyone suggesting to the contrary is misinformed.”

In addition to United Center security, the tournament organizers had brought in their own security, Gates said.

Earnest Gates, host of the West Haven Safe Summer Basketball League, talks to reporters Wednesday in the aftermath of a brawl at the united Center Monday. The fights outside the venue forced the cancellation of the basketball league’s championship games.

Earnest Gates, host of the West Haven Safe Summer Basketball League, talks to reporters Wednesday in the aftermath of a brawl at the united Center Monday. The fights outside the venue forced the cancellation of the basketball league’s championship games. | Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

Earlier in the week, Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson spoke publicly about the fighting at the tournament, which forced the closure of the United Center and prevented neighborhood teams made up of players from two of Chicago’s top high school basketball teams from squaring off in the title game. Johnson lamented problems with security.

“We’ll be talking to the sponsors to make sure their security plans are on point next time,” Johnson said Monday.

A source previously told the Chicago Sun-Times that the fighting broke out when security had to close the doors after nearly 10,000 people showed up.

But on Wednesday, in a news conference at Crane Medical Prep High School, 2245 W. Jackson, one of the event organizers said the fighting was planned on social media.

“Some of the individuals involved in the brawl are actually 12 and 13 years of age,” said Oji Eggleston, program director for the West Haven Safe Sports Club. “And they were planning to meet a rival group of individuals at the United Center and use that as the platform to engage in the activities that they did.”

There were no serious injuries and no arrests, but the brawl, some of which was caught on cell phone video, left Johnson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel sad and frustrated.

Gates pointed out several times on Wednesday that Monday’s fighting was the first at the annual event, now in its ninth year.

“To date, we have had zero injuries, zero fatalities and zero fights — with the exception of the brawl at the United Center this past Monday …,” Gates said. “Safe Summer is your Trump [news] break. So enjoy it.”

Gates said there’s “more than a good chance” that the tournament won’t be played at the United Center next year.

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