The NBA has a fan problem that has gone too far. This problem isn’t about ticket sales or low interest from an international market; those might be at an all-time high. The problem is fans sitting close to the court voicing more than just displeasure towards the actual game.
The latest altercation between Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and Shane Keisel, a fan of the Utah Jazz, has shown that NBA and the NBPA must come together and figure out how to really address fan confrontations.
Keisel, off camera shouted to Westbrook who was icing his knees, “Get on your knees like you’re used to” a comment Westbrook considered “completely disrespectful” and “racial.” Westbrook responded by saying “I’ll f*%! you up” in a video captured courtside moments after the incident.
This incident is one of many where Westbrook has been singled out by Utah Jazz fans.
“Here in Utah, a lot of disrespectful, vulgar things are said to the players here with these fans,” Westbrook said last April. “They are truly disrespectful, talking about your families, your kids. It is a disrespect to the game and I think it is something that needs to be brought up.”
Utah isn’t the only fanbase that expresses themselves to NBA players. The Malice in the Palace has to be the most famous incident. A fan threw a cup of soda on Ron Artest’s chest, leading Artest to charge the fan along with teammates Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal.
Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association said that the league must adapt a zero-tolerance policy for fan misconduct. I am truly onboard with this idea because basketball is the only sport where the fan is feet away from the player. Baseball, football and soccer have a wall that doesn’t allow fans to be that close. Hockey has the glass which acts as a defense for the players.
Heckling will always be a part of sports but there must be accountability with fans sitting in the first 10 rows of an NBA game. The money that one spent on that ticket or the amount in that person’s pocket does not allow fans to be vulgar or worse. Crossing the line in talking about a player’s race, family, or anything that doesn’t have to do with the game deserves that fan to be kicked out and banned.
Keisel, who initiated the confrontation, has been handed a permanent ban from Vivint Smart Home Arena, home off the Jazz following an investigation by the team. Westbrook was also fined $25,000 after the language he used in the video surfaced.