Jazz ban fan, Westbrook fined following confrontation
The Associated Press
NBA star Russell Westbrook will play in Utah again one day. When he does, a fan who allegedly made racial taunts against him will not be there to watch.
A day after the Oklahoma City Thunder standout directed vulgar comments — which were captured on video and went viral — toward two fans, the Utah Jazz responded by banning a fan from their arena. Westbrook also got support from Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, who said it wasn’t the first time a racially motivated event happened at a Jazz game.
“The Utah Jazz will not tolerate fans who act inappropriately,” the Jazz said in a statement. “There is no place in our game for personal attacks or disrespect.”
Westbrook was fined $25,000 for “directing profanity and threatening language to a fan.” In the video posted to Twitter by The Deseret News, Westbrook is seen on the sideline near the Thunder bench saying “I’ll (bleep) you up, you and your wife.”
The comment, and threatening a woman, is not a good look for the image-conscious NBA — especially since it came from a former Most Valuable Player and one of the game’s biggest stars. But Westbrook, who has had multiple angry in-game exchanges with fans, insisted that Monday night’s video during a 98-89 Oklahoma City win over the Jazz told only one side of the story. He said he was responding to a racial taunt, and not for the first time in Salt Lake City.
“Every time I come here, a lot of disrespectful things are said,” Westbrook said. He added that he has never physically abused a woman and never would.
The man Westbrook was shouting at during the game, identified as Shane Keisel, denied saying anything improper or profane. The Jazz did not name Keisel in their statement announcing the ban, and a phone number for him rang unanswered.
What exactly happened is unclear, but some of Westbrook’s peers in the NBA came to his defense Tuesday, saying fans who sit near players in many arenas now feel emboldened to say things that would be described as disrespectful or worse. Mitchell said he will devote some time in the coming months to try to combat racial inequality. The most recent population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show that about 2 percent of Utah’s population is black, the lowest percentage of any state that has a major pro sports team.
“Racism and hate speech hurts us all, and this is not the first time something like this has happened in our arena,” Mitchell said. “The Utah that I have come to love is welcoming and inclusive, and last night’s incident is not indicative of our fan base.”
Westbrook has had run-ins with fans before — and reacted calmly last month when it appeared he was touched by a child sitting courtside. Others have not been as pleasant, and Denver’s Will Barton said he believes fans know they can get a reaction from Westbrook.
“They know he’s going to react a little bit or might say something,” Barton said. “Now I feel like every time he goes on the road, they’re picking at him. I don’t know what the league can do, but some of those fans are out of control.”
Keisel told Salt Lake City television station KSL that he told Westbrook to “sit down and ice your knees, bro.” Westbrook claimed that Keisel said to “get down on my knees like you’re used to.”
The Thunder did not have any comment other than the statement Westbrook made to reporters after the game.