What started the wild brawl between a basketball team and referees?

A massive brawl erupted between a grassroots basketball team and officials at a game on Sunday. (Yahoo Sports)
A massive brawl erupted between a grassroots basketball team and officials at a game on Sunday. (Yahoo Sports)

At a timeout late in his team’s victory over Chicago’s Raw Athletics on Sunday morning, Houston Raptors coach Bobby Benjamin sensed that an already contentious basketball game might soon turn violent.

The opposing team had become increasingly frustrated at its inability to cut into a double-digit deficit, so Benjamin warned his players to be prepared to exit the floor without shaking hands at the final buzzer rather than risk potential fisticuffs.

“Their players started fighting amongst each other and they were arguing with their coach,” Benjamin said. “That’s when I knew it was about to get bad. I figured if they’re going to fight with each other, they might be willing to fight anybody.”

Proof that Benjamin was right to be worried arrived a few minutes later when an otherwise typical grassroots basketball game devolved into a series of wild brawls between Raw Athletics players and the referees. Raw Athletics players threw a flurry of punches at one referee during the mayhem and surrounded him as he lay prone on the court. The same players also tackled another referee to the floor after he sprinted over from an adjacent court in an attempt to intervene.

To determine how the melee started, Yahoo Sports reached out to all four coaches whose teams reached the Under-17 semifinals of The Association tournament at the Lake Point Sports Complex in Emerson, Georgia. The three who spoke with Yahoo Sports on Sunday each agreed that Raw Athletics players and coaches were most responsible for instigating the incident.

Tempers flared in the final minute of the game when a Raw Athletics player allegedly disputed a foul call by complaining vehemently and shoulder-bumping the referee who blew the whistle. The referee then assessed a technical foul against the player, which allegedly resulted in the player throwing a punch and setting off the first in a series of scrums.

“When I looked up, the kid was swinging at the ref,” Benjamin said. “At that point I told my assistant coaches to get our kids on the other side of the court. I didn’t want them involved in that at all. If you watch the video, you will probably not see a single purple jersey.”

Raw Athletics coach Howard Martin did not return a message from Yahoo Sports seeking comment on Sunday, but he offered his view of how the fight escalated on Twitter earlier in the day. In a since-deleted tweet, Martin blamed the original referee for goading his player into an altercation and the official who ran over from the adjacent court for escalating the situation.

“A ref actually walked up on one of our players and attacked him,” Martin wrote. “Everyone tried to break it all up, then the ref’s father (who was working a game on a different court) ran over to our court and rushed our guys..everyone in the gym, the other team and the directors saw everything.”

As the skirmish worsened between the Raw Athletics players and the referees, play also halted on the adjacent court with only a few seconds to go in the fourth quarter and the Southern Indiana Titans clinging to a three-point lead over the Indy Eagles Basketball Club. Titans coach Mac McIntosh and Eagles coach Marcus Fisher split their time between corralling their players to keep them safe and shaking their head at the awful scenes they were witnessing.

Said McIntosh, “What I saw was a bunch of players and a coaching staff that lost their mind, and then a referee that didn’t help the situation.”

Said Fisher, “Tempers got hot, one of their players hit the referee and then all hell broke loose. It’s a bad representation of AAU basketball. It’s sad.”

Raw Athletics forfeited its semifinal against the Houston Raptors, a moot point since the Raptors led comfortably in the final minute when the mayhem broke out. The Titans and Eagles chose to finish their game — and they didn’t even need to call in a new referee to do it.

“He came back over, scratches on his face and a few bruises, and finished the game,” Fisher said. “Then he went ahead and reffed the championship game a couple hours later.”

The Raptors suffered a narrow loss to the Titans in the title game, but Benjamin was too proud of his team’s conduct that morning to be disappointed by that result.

His team heeded his warning and steered clear of the brawl. Now this is one viral video they’re glad to have avoided.

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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