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Basketball Fri Feb 07 2014

A Sporting Guide to Elevator Etiquette

I've punched exactly one person in the face -- so far.

In April 2004, I took a stray ground ball to the face that required surgery for my broken nose. At our twice-weekly poker game a few days later, a friend's older brother sitting to my right thought it would be funny to give my newly splinted nose a love tap. My instantaneous reaction involved the back of my clenched fist connecting to the face of a man much larger than I was.

Karl was fine, and he somehow withheld a rage filled response our buddies were gleefully awaiting. My retaliatory backhand might not even qualify as a punch, and if it doesn't, it's as close as I've come to doing so. But I think about drilling someone directly between the eyes every time I get bumped while exiting an elevator. The memory of Karl's merciful restraint is the only thing that holds me back.

The West Loop office I work in is home to roughly 25 small businesses sprawling seven floors. The building has two passenger elevators, but the secondary one is only used when the main lift is malfunctioning because it's brutally slow, crushingly small, and rides like the cables are mere moments away from snapping. The main elevator does just fine by itself, but the moment the doors open after I ride down to leave for the day is when all hell breaks loose.

If there's one thing I learned at Western Illinois University, it's elevator etiquette, mainly in the dormitories of Tanner Hall and the recently demolished Wetzel Hall where I spent all of my time there living. When waiting for a lift, common courtesy (especially on the bottom floor) is to stand back away from the door to allow outgoing occupants plenty of room to exit, followed by the entrance of those waiting after the area around the door is clear.

That considerateness is not universal. Just yesterday, as I stood not six inches from the elevator doors to announce my presence immediately upon their opening, I was nearly bowled over by a 5-foot-1 lady trying to leap into the elevator as if it were going to escape if she didn't have a foot in before the doors had finished opening.

It's high time to teach the world how to properly get on/off elevators before I start dropping people like Mike Tyson on PCP. Interestingly, the etiquette involved when it comes to these vertically traveling devices is similar to the way the NBA polices its high-flying athletes in the area around the basket.

The NBA introduced the four-foot 'restricted area' (Figure A), commonly known as the 'charge circle' in 1997 to prevent defenders from standing underneath the basket to try and draw a charge. It made the area around the hoop a lot safer for attacking offensive players (they didn't have to worry about players sliding under them every time they jumped) and the referee's job easier when trying to decide if it's a block or a charge. It worked so well that the NCAA has since adopted nearly identical rules.

Figure A
Thumbnail image for Restricted Area.jpg

You can read the rule's full language on the NBA's website, but here's the gist of it: if any part of the defender's feet are on or inside the line, a charge cannot be called unless the offensive player illegally leads with his knee or feet, or contacts the defender with his off arm. For a charge to be called in the NBA, the defender has to be entirely outside the circle and have his feet fully set before the offensive player leaves his feet. The only exception is if the offensive player starts his drive to the hoop in the Lower Defensive Box (Figure B). If he does, the charge circle doesn't apply.

Figure B
Lower Defensive Box.jpg

The way elevator etiquette worldwide should work is basically the NBA charge circle, but applied in the opposite direction. Figure 1 shows a rough ground floor layout of the building I work in. O's are people who wish to enter the elevator, and X's designate people who wish to exit it and we'll assume, the building.

Figure 1
Figure 1.jpg

Figure 2 contains the proposed 'restricted area' in red. To remain in compliance, the people waiting to get in the elevator should be forced to remain outside of a five-foot 'restricted area' until the people seeking exit are completely clear. They should also leave open a direct path to the door as this is the most likely destination for those leaving the elevator.

Figure 2
Figure 2.jpg

If one of the people outside the elevator violates the rule of the 'restricted area' (as shown in Figure 3) instead of receiving a personal foul like in the NBA, they should receive a personal injury (such as a punch to the face) or a personal fine ($20 sounds about right). The violator will either learn a lesson of courteousness via a wake-up jab (plus the exiting person will receive some satisfaction), or it'll lessen our nation's deficit; a win-win for the country.

Figure 3
Figure 3.jpg

Just as there is with the NBA's rule though, there is an exception to the 'restricted area' when it comes to elevators: The person(s) inside the elevator must be standing in front of the doors and immediately begin exiting upon them opening. Hiding or hesitating in the bowels of an elevator can perpetuate what already is an awkward encounter, and is a wholly unnecessary delay.

Figure 4 examines this scenario, where the person inside the elevator isn't near the doors when they open. Thinking the coast is clear, the people waiting patiently outside believe it's safe to enter, only to encounter the lollygagger from inside the elevator right in the narrow doorway. This turns into the weird 'quarter-turn and side step' accompanied by dirty looks from both parties. This situation is entirely preventable, and is the fault of the elevator rider. The penalty shall be the same as someone violating the restricted zone.

Figure 4
Figure 4.jpg

Applying some basic NBA principles can solve the major elevator etiquette problem that plagues our world. With basketball being the President's favorite sport, I see no reason why these rules shouldn't receive easy passage from our government. Your move, Obama.

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