One of the biggest topics of discussion in the NBA world on Tuesday is the heated verbal altercation that Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook got into with a Utah fan during the Thunder’s 98-89 win over the Jazz on Monday night.
Westbrook threatened the fan and his wife, and after the game was over, Westbrook said that a racial taunt thrown at him by the fan was what provoked his response.
There has been a lot of talk about whether or not Westbrook crossed the line in his response and also whether or not fans have too much freedom to say whatever they want when they go to basketball games.
The fan was then banned from Jazz games forever, so a hefty punishment was definitely handed down.
Regardless of your stance on the subject, this is definitely a serious matter, and judging by what has happened in the past in terms of fan-player altercations (e.g. The Malice at the Palace), it might be time for the NBA to take more drastic measures in ensuring that everyone is safe.
But this isn’t the first time this type of thing has occurred in Utah, and it’s not even the first time it has happened with Westbrook.
Remember: during last year’s playoffs, Westbrook got into it with Jazz fans during the Thunder’s series-deciding Game 6 loss, when he confronted heckling fans heading into the locker room at halftime. Then, after the game was over, he tried to knock a cell phone out of a fan’s hands.
Westbrook then ripped Utah fans in the postgame news conference:
“Here in Utah, a lot of disrespectful, vulgar things are said to the players here with these fans,” Westbrook said last April, according to Jay Drew of The Salt Lake Tribune. “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.”
It doesn’t just stop at Westbrook, either.
Earlier this season, Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant got into it with a heckling fan, and while it certainly seemed much more harmless than anything that happened with Westbrook, it only added fuel to the fire about incidents in Utah.
Then, in the second round of last year’s playoffs, Houston Rockets star James Harden attempted to knock a cell phone out of a fan’s hands. That instance was actually in Houston, as a Jazz fan traveled to the Toyota Center to watch the game. To be fair, the fan only called Harden a flopper, which is just run-of-the-mill trash talk, but he came awfully close to Harden, which prompted Harden to slap the fan’s phone.
But the most disturbing occurrence of Jazz fans heckling opposing players came during the 2008 playoffs when Utah was battling Derek Fisher and the Los Angeles Lakers.
First, a bit of backstory.
Fisher had spent the previous season with the Jazz and helped the team reach the Western Conference Finals, where they were beaten by the San Antonio Spurs.
The most memorable moment of that season for Fisher came during the second round of the playoffs when his 11-month old daughter fell victim to eye cancer and had to undergo emergency surgery. As a result, Fisher missed most of the Jazz’s Game 2 matchup against the Warriors, but took the floor in the third quarter and received a standing ovation from the Utah fans.
Fisher then drained a big shot in the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime, and the Jazz would go on to win.
At that time, Fisher was viewed as a hero in Utah due to his gutsy, heartwarming performance in the heat of what was probably the most adverse time of his life, but during the offseason, Fisher asked for a release from the Jazz.
He then went back to the Lakers, which brings us up to speed in the story.
In Game 4 of Los Angeles’ second-round matchup against Utah, Fisher stepped to the free-throw line in front of an arena full of angry Jazz fans, but one fan was particularly disgusting when he covered his right eye and screamed toward Fisher, clearly poking fun at Fisher’s daughter.
Now, to be fair to Jazz fans, heckling occurs inside every arena. It doesn’t matter if it’s Utah, New York, Los Angeles, or some high-school gym in South Dakota. If you are playing a sport on the road, chances are, you are going to get verbally attacked.
So, perhaps it’s just that Utah fans get caught on tape more, so they look more guilty than everyone else. But, there is no denying the history that comes with the Jazz faithful.
Hopefully, the Westbrook incident on Monday evening was the last such one we’ll ever see. Not just in Utah, but in any arena. Is that a realistic hope? No, but, at the very least, maybe fans will start learning to behave themselves, little by little.
And hey; perhaps the Jazz’s decision to ban the fan will serve as a deterrent for anyone else who has plans of acting out inside Vivint Smart Home Arena.