The Utah Jazz made a serious statement on Tuesday, as they have permanently banned the fan that inappropriately heckled Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star guard Russell Westbrook during the match-up between the Jazz and Thunder on Monday night.
From the Jazz:
“The Utah Jazz and Larry H. Miller Group announced today a permanent ban of the fan who engaged in the inappropriate interaction with the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook last night at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The ban is effective immediately and includes all arena events.
The organization conducted an investigation through video review and eyewitness accounts. The ban is based on excessive and derogatory verbal abuse directed at a player during the game that violated the NBA Code of Conduct.
The Utah Jazz will not tolerate fans who act inappropriately. There is no place in our game for personal attacks or disrespect.”
Westbrook was caught on camera threatening the fan – and his wife – after he apparently told Westbrook to “get on your knees like you’re used to;” a comment that Westbrook found to be racially-based and extremely disrespectful.
“For me, I’m just not going to continue to take disrespect for my family,” Westbrook said of his reaction, after the game, via ESPN. “I just think there’s got to be something done. There’s got to be some consequences for those type of people that come to the game just to say and do whatever they want to say. I don’t think it’s fair to the players — not just to me, but I don’t think it’s fair to the players.
“And if I had to do it again, I would say the same exact thing, because I truly will stand up for myself, for my family, for my kids, for my wife, for my mom, for my dad every single time.
After the incident, several prominent members of the Jazz organization spoke out about the importance of maintaining a positive, inclusive in-arena atmosphere.
“Everyone deserves the opportunity to enjoy and play the game in a safe, positive and inclusive environment,” Jazz President Steve Starks said. “Offensive and abusive behavior does not reflect the values of the Miller family, our organization and the community. We all have a responsibility to respect the game of basketball and, more importantly, each other as human beings. This has always been a hallmark of our incredible fan base and should forever be our standard moving forward.”
Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell was happy that the organization – and the league – responded with a heavy hand so quickly.
“I am personally hurt by the incident at the game on March 11th,” Mitchell said. “As a black man living in a community I love, and playing on a team that gives me the opportunity to live out my dreams, this incident hits close to home. Racism and hate speech hurts us all, and this is not the first time something like this has happened in our arena. The Utah that I have come to love is welcoming and inclusive and last night’s incident is not indicative of our fanbase. We don’t want to create a negative reputation for athletes who potentially may want to come to Utah.
“I want to thank my team and the NBA for quickly responding to this hateful incident, and for helping to make our arena a place where all fans and players are welcome. I join other players in calling for all teams to take a stand. We should not be subject to hate speech or racist acts at any time, and definitely not in our arenas.”
Though the fan was ultimately found to be in the wrong, Westbrook’s actions in the incident didn’t go unpunished, as the league fined him $25,000 for “directing profanity and threatening language to a fan.” Hopefully, the incident serves as a learning experience for all involved.