An AAU game ended in violence Sunday after members of Chicago's R.A.W. Athletics fought with referees at The Association tournament finals in Emerson, Georgia.
According to Josh Miley, the organizer of the tournament, multiple officers arrived at the LakePoint Sporting Community complex immediately after the incident. The Emerson Police Department has launched an investigation, which could result in legal ramifications for those involved in the brawl.
Per clips supplied to ESPN by Bobby Benjamin, coach of the opposing Houston Raptors who produced a video of the fight that circulated online Sunday, multiple members of the R.A.W. Athletics team threw punches at one official, who called a late technical foul against them. The same players continued to fight with other officials who ran onto the court to break up the brawl.
R.A.W. Athletics coach Howard Martin says a ref attacked his team and started the melee.
"At the end of the game, one of my players was complaining about a call," Martin told ESPN. "He made a comment to the referee. The ref didn't like it. So the other team inbounded the ball, walked it up, the ref said to my player, 'Say it again.' Then he T'd him up and kicked him out of the game. And he walked behind him, still having words. Then the ref pushed my player, and they squared up right by my bench. When they squared up, another one of my players jumped off the bench and took [the ref] down. We separated them."
Martin told ESPN that one official who ran over from another court was trying to "join in" the brawl.
"I'm telling him, 'Hey, hey, it's all good.' [And he says], 'Who hit the ref?'" Martin said. "He's running to the ref's defense. He's coming over to join in whatever's going on. ... He finally calms down some. Then the kid who was involved in taking the ref down comes over and says, 'It's me, trying to take responsibility for it.' [The ref] charged the kid. And it all went to hell."
Benjamin gave a different account of the brawl, saying Martin and his team instigated the incident. He said the clip that shows an official pursuing some of the players occurred after the official had been assaulted. Benjamin said one player "body slammed" an official, who appeared to have injured his neck.
He said the referee in the video, who is on the ground taking punches from players, called a technical foul against a R.A.W. Athletics player, who then bumped him with his shoulder before he knocked him to the ground. That started the altercation, Benjamin said.
"The referee definitely didn't attack the kids," Benjamin said. "Absolutely not. Once things got going, and he was attacked ... he got assaulted. They were too outnumbered to even try to defend themselves."
Benjamin said Martin told the referee that he would "whip your ass" at the start of the game, which was edgy from the beginning.
Benjamin said he could sense the opposing team's frustration as it was losing late in the game, so he cautioned his squad to stay alert for any cheap shots. Some R.A.W. Athletics players even argued with Martin, Benjamin said.
As players from the opposing team began to fight with the officials, Benjamin said he pulled his team off the floor.
"They started arguing with each other and their coach," Benjamin said of the moments before the fight started. "During a timeout, I said, 'I think they know they're not gonna beat us in basketball, but I think they might try to challenge us in something else because they're challenging their coach.' Five minutes before the fight, God gave us a sign that something ugly was about to happen."
Miley said the event was staffed with security and that the tournament, in its first year of operation, had a security plan in place to address any on-court incidents.
"Right now, we're still reviewing the video as to what might happen," Miley said. "We had everything in the proper place. It just escalated more than it should have."
The referees were supplied by the LakePoint Sporting Community complex, Miley said. According to those at the event, the referee at the center of the incident officiated multiple games after the fight.
Miley said he would ban anyone found culpable in Sunday's incident, including players, coaches or referees.
"It's unfortunate," he said. "It's saddening. It's sickening. It's hard to stomach. No adult, no kid should have to witness that."
Martin told ESPN that no arrests had been made and that he will seek counsel when he returns to Chicago.
"Now it's all over social media, news outlets, that my kids are a bunch of thugs and a bunch of gangbangers," he said. "They're all teenage boys. One guy came to the aid of another guy, which he shouldn't have. He should have let us handle it."
Martin added, "I'm not condoning anything my players did, but they're kids. They're minors. That's why they need adults. My job is to protect them. And that's what I'm going to do."
ESPN's Jeff Borzello contributed to this report.