St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca remembers little about the affair. "I guess I turned off my hearing aid for that game," he says with a laugh. ("If that's the case," says Lokar, "how come he came over to me when I played against his team in Spain this summer and apologized for what happened?")
For Lokar the memory of the game is indelible: "They shouted insults I don't want to repeat. Also, 'Arab lover' and 'communist' and 'coward.' Being nonviolent is not being a coward, believe me. They were yelling that if I didn't like it here, I should get out. That I should take the first plane back to Italy. They didn't understand that it's war I'm against, not the American people."
With 7:16 left in the first half of the game and the Pirates down 26-16, Carlesimo brought Lokar off the bench. ("I had noticed that P.J. was playing me less after I refused to put on the flag," Lokar says. "Maybe he was trying to protect me.")
For Seton Hall, number 33, Marco Lokar. The boos were not overwhelming, but you couldn't miss them, either. When Lokar got the ball on the left side of the key, the boos got louder. He passed and got the ball back again—louder still. Each time he touched the basketball, more people joined in.
Normally an excellent long-range shooter, Lokar threw up a brick that barely caught the rim, giving the booers something to cheer about. "A bad shot, but I just wanted to shut them up," he says.
If it had remained a problem of heckling, no matter how fierce, Lokar is certain he would have weathered it. "I'd have survived because I believe in nonviolence just as strongly as others believe that war really settles things."
Then the phone calls began.
The first one came on the night of the St. John's game. Lara was home alone, and because her English is not perfect, she didn't fully understand the caller; but she couldn't fail to recognize his threatening tone. After the game, the phone rang often. Marco told Lara not to answer it when he wasn't home, and she, already displaced in a strange land, became increasingly isolated and scared. Marco heard most of the death threats, the obscenities, the haunting silences on the other end of the telephone lines. "Lara got so tense, it was impossible for her to sleep, to do anything but worry," he says. "The FBI said they'd give us protection, but they couldn't guarantee anything. Any crazy nut could try to kill us. I could take responsibility for my own life but not for Lara's and our baby's."
One idea for a compromise was tempting: Marco could wear a yellow ribbon in place of the flag to indicate that he supported the troops if not the war. He talked it over with Lara, who in public wears her timidity like a cloak, and the force of her response was surprising: "The troops are there to fight the war, Marco. You must be a man and make a true choice." As he recalled her words, he looked at the smoke rising over Slovenia and shook his head. "Lara is a very strong woman."
"We talked to Marco about various possibilities," says Carlesimo. "Maybe we could send Lara home. Or they could both leave and come back next year after Lara had the baby. The thing would have blown over eventually." Perhaps. But for Marco and Lara, it was already over. They decided to leave.