I win the first set, 6-whatever. Then I'm down 3-love, and I'm thinking, God, why did I play this tournament? I'm not ready. But I get back to 3-all, then up 4-3. I think, Keep moving, finish the match.
I'm toweling off. And I'm doing this [ Seles leans forward] to concentrate, and then I just feel something very sharp in me.... Thousands of thoughts racing in a second: What was that? I look back and I see this man and his face is like...like [ Seles contorts her face into a snarl]...and he's holding his knife here [she holds her hand above her head as if preparing to strike]. I see another guy choking him. I think, What happened?
Since 1993 leagues, teams and arenas have devoted ever-growing amounts of cash and energy to ensuring that an attack like the one on Seles never happens again. The security directors of all four major sports leagues—the NFL's Milt Ahlerich, the NBA's Bernard Tolbert, the NHL's Dennis Cunningham and baseball's Hallinan—have law-enforcement backgrounds. U.S. Olympic Committee security chief Larry Buendorf spent 21 years with the Secret Service, most famously as the man in charge of protecting President Gerald Ford at the time of the two assassination attempts against him. "I took the gun away from Squeaky Fromme," Buendorf says.
All the directors oversee budgets that had grown significantly even before Sept. 11 jacked security spending into the stratosphere. Hallinan, a 25-year veteran of the New York Police Department, expanded his staff from one to 10 in the last 17 years—and that doesn't take into account the increased security presence employed by teams at each ballpark. For an idea of what it takes to protect some 100 people daily for 81 baseball home dates, consider the NASDAQ-100 tennis tournament. Security costs for the 14-day event last month, not including the staffing by local and international police, are estimated at nearly $400,000, more than four times what they were before Seles was stabbed.
But the heightened protection has a limit. Accessibility is a key to selling tickets, and anyone charged with safeguarding players is constrained by the need to keep fans close to the action. More dramatic steps to boost security would change the nature of sports in America, eroding the intimacy of spring training, the reach-out-and-touch-them closeness of an NBA game, the ability to watch Serena Williams work on her backhand on a practice court. U.S. leagues are unlikely to install moats and fences between the crowds and players, as has been done at many soccer pitches worldwide. Who wants to banish the Lambeau Leap?
"We don't have snipers on roofs, we don't have armed guards, and we shouldn't," says the NBA's Tolbert. "Because, sure, then nothing would ever happen—but no one would come to the game, either."
Problem is, since Parche attacked Seles, there has been a fundamental shift out on fandom's fringe. The people who intruded on fields before 1993 were usually naked or drunk or were self-promoting characters like Morganna, the athlete-kisser. Barry (the Great Imposter) Bremen, whose last major stunt was shagging flies in a Mets uniform during batting practice at the '86 All-Star Game, just wanted to be part of the show. But today's intruders want to be the show. A few innings before he and his son assaulted Gamboa, William Ligue called his sister to tell her to watch.
"People want to be noticed, and they'll spend a night in jail just to get their name in the paper," says Boston University professor Leonard Zaichkowsky, who has studied fans' behavior for 15 years. Arena security measures are most effective at stopping what experts in the field call "the low-hanging fruit"—the random nut who easily reveals himself or is so discouraged by the security presence that he walks away. But a determined person with no care about his fate is a different story. "You can have what you think is the most airtight security and you can't stop every possibility," says Tandy O'Donoghue, who oversees security for the women's tennis tour.
Or as Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena, puts it: "Look at President Reagan. He had all the security you can have, and the guy shot him. If a person wants you bad enough, he's going to get you."
Seles is weary of the issue. She lived under death threats before and after Hamburg. In February she was practicing in Dubai when a man scampered on court and took pictures of her. She complained, but she's not expecting any change. German courts freed Parche after six months in custody on the grounds that he was an unlikely repeat offender and then rejected both her appeal and her civil suit against the German tennis federation.