At the end of NC State's win over No. 1 Duke Saturday, thousands of delirious Wolfpack fans rushed the court. It was similar to pretty much every court rush ever, save for one thing: At the front of the group was a kid in a wheelchair, being pushed by a fellow student.
It was impossible to miss and profoundly confusing. ESPN's Dick Vitale, who was working the game, was immediately and rightfully concerned. For as fun as they are, court-stormings are a mass of people running and jumping into one another, potentially (though rarely) hazardous to everyone involved. It doesn't seem like a very good idea to put someone in a wheelchair in the middle of that fracas.
In fact, the kid himself shot a first-person YouTube video of him being pushed onto the floor. It starts out awesome, and ends up terrifying:
USA Today's Nicole Auerbach tracked down the man himself. His name is Will Privette, a Zebulon, N.C. native and senior at NC State. He was pushed onto the floor by student body president Andy Walsh, and it wasn't his first time; he rushed the court when the Pack beat Duke in 2010, too, but "that time I waited for the first wave of people to go through so I wouldn't get crushed," he said. (Some have criticized Walsh for pushing Privette on the floor, but Privette has been quick to shoot such criticism down.)
Anyway, things didn't go quite so smoothly this time. As the video shows, Privette was knocked over onto the ground, with little recourse for escaping the mass of people flying onto the floor. Just when things were starting to get legitimately scary, Privette got what he called a life-saving assist from forward NC State forward C.J. Leslie. You can see a photo of that moment, shot by Oliver Sholder, here. From Auerbach's interview:
We got right in the center, and as you can see in the video, I got hit from one side. It was like a wave. It toppled me over. I fell out of my wheelchair. I was on the ground, and I had my phone in my hand -- I was trying to film the event -- and the phone flew out of my hands and my glasses flew off my face. I was on the ground. I was like, "OK, what am I going to do now?"
C.J. Leslie was in the middle (of the crowd) and he saw me. I knew him from being around campus. He pushed everyone back and told everyone, "Get back, get back." Once everyone moved and realized what was going on, he picked me up and I've described it as like how you'd hold a baby. Once I realized I wasn't in trouble any more, I started to scream, like "Wooooo! Let's go!" C.J. held me for a little bit because we lost my wheelchair in the sea of people. He held me for a couple of minutes. I was screaming and yelling.
I patted him on the head and said, "Thank you." Then he put me in my chair, and the PNC Arena staff escorted me off the court to safety. After the game, I waited around for C.J. to say, "Thank you, thank you for helping -- saving my life, really."
It was the dumbest thing I've done in college but it was awesome.
That last sentence is correct in every single way. If you don't have at least one moment of your college career that you could describe the exact same way, you're doing it wrong.
In closing: Will Privette is an American hero. And Leslie's not too far behind.