By now, everyone who hasn’t been under a rock for the last week, has heard about the altercation with Russell Westbrook and Utah Jazz fan Shane Keisel. If not, you can see the link here https://youtu.be/hGN_-H3piHk
Many commentators and talking heads have weighed in as this has been a topic of all the daily sports shows for this entire week. Some of the statements have been completely off base and out of touch with reality. Many of the people who are having these discussions have never been in the situation that Russell Westbrook found himself in this past Monday when the Utah Jazz hosted the Oklahoma City Thunder. I have. I played in the NBA for 11 years (9 seasons because i was injured 2 different years) So I know first hand the climate at Utah Jazz games.
I remember countless times looking around the arena during games and being amazed at the faces of hate that were looking back at me from the Utah Jazz fans. Not simply fans rooting and passionate for their teams, you get that in every arena, but in Utah, it’s different. There is a strong racial component hovering in the arena, and it’s abundantly clear. The problem is, some of the people who are currently criticizing Russell
Westbrook’s reaction and making statements such as, “Oh, they need to remain professional, they need to exhibit more self control, they’re getting paid millions of dollars,” as if the amount of money they are paid in any way shape or form is a fair exchange for your dignity or pride. It’s as if people think this is the times of the 60’s when our parents and grandparents were attempting to desegregate schools in Georgia or marching for voting rights in Selma Alabama, and expect players to maintain that level of control and restraint at all times. They reference Jackie Robinson and claim that if he was able to have restraint why can’t Russell Westbrook ? This isn’t the movie Glory Road and players are traveling to all white towns who haven’t grown accustomed to seeing so many Black Men being on a basketball team all at the same time. I have actually heard the argument made that if Dr. King could do it, why can’t these current players ? This is 2019 !!!! This isn’t the 1960’s. This isn’t the Black and white Eyes on the Prize documentaries. This is a basketball game. NBA players didn’t sign up to face an angry confederate flag waving bigoted mob. There is a reason why when Westbrook got into a verbal altercation previously with a Utah fan who called him boy repeatedly with that southern drawl that lets you know exactly what he meant by calling him boy, so many NBA players came to his defense, just as they
did after Monday’s verbal altercation. Because they know Utah !!!!
Now, of course not all of the fans in Utah fall into this category, but there definitely exists more than enough for this reputation to be consistent across the league. It’s borderline reckless that this widely known element has been tolerated for decades and that’s the problem.
Thank goodness the NBA has a new commissioner in Adam Silver who along with the Utah Jazz took swift action against Shane Keisel, something that former commissioner David Stern probably would not have done. Utah fans have been Utah fans for a long time. After the Malace In The Palace, all of the blame was put on Metta World Peace, but no blame put on the fan who threw a beer at him, or the two fans that jumped the rail and were standing toe to toe with Metta World Peace.
Many people have repeatedly asked why Westbrook didn’t just go to arena security and tell them that this fan is crossing the line, I’m trying to remain professional, I want him out.
That sounds good in theory, but the problem with that is, the ushers and security were standing right there watching like it was a movie or something.
I interviewed Antonio Daniels Thursday morning on my radio show The Collision “Where Sports And Politics Collide” with my co host Dave Zirin, and he made some very good points. http://archive.wpfwfm.org/mp3/ wpfwhi_190314_100000collisionihi.mp3
“As a player that played in the league for 13 years, I have had some fans say some egregious things to me. People have heckled me about the passing of my brother where if there wasn’t a barrier between me and that fan, we would have had issues. I’m not excusing what he did but yet I do understand it.”
Nobody should have to be subjected to that type of abuse. There is a way to passionately cheer for your team, and there is a way that greatly crosses the line. It is up to security to police that. It shouldn’t have to come down to the players pausing during the game, or like Chris Broussard suggested, calling a timeout and saying that we are not going back on the floor until you get that fan out of here. That’s the security’s job. Instead of spectating and people watching, they have to actually do their job. When the Jazz put their statement out, they said that there were ‘multiple red cards’ handed out to different fans that night. What the devil is a red card ? Throw the fan out and you have solved the problem, and that will send a message to all
of the other fans that certain behavior will not be tolerated. Make announcements over the PA system that if you see something say something. There are plenty of precautions teams can have. They just have to do it. As Antonio Daniels said to me on The Collision,
“Players safety is the most important thing and its just a matter of time before the Malace In The Palace happens again. We all know there are certain areas that as players you have to withstand. You have to deal with someone saying ‘you suck’ or ‘you’re not good enough’ I get that, but when you start throwing in background, ethnicity, wife, children, mother you are stepping over the line.”
Finally, a lot of people across the media came down hard on Russell Westbrook saying that he should’ve handled it differently. And went on to criticize not only him but all current NBA players as being entitled, etc
Many people have historically had a difficult time separating the man from the athlete. I had the honor of interviewing Russell Westbrook for my book We Matter “Athletes And Activism” and during the interview, he spoke with so much compassion and caring for what the family of Terrence Crutcher was going through. How seeing what happened personally effected him and pushed him to speak publicly about it at a post
game press conference. He didn’t do that just because he wanted to inject himself into the conversation, but he did it because he genuinely cared. He invited all of the family of Terence Crutcher to a pre season game in Tulsa Oklahoma where he was killed because he cared. He talked with them and showed compassion to them because he cares. So this fictional character that Jason Whitlock and other commentators have described of an entitled, spoiled, thinks the world owes them something, terrible person couldn’t be further from the truth. https://www.foxsports.com/watch/speak-for-yourself/ video/1456757315711
I played with Russell Westbrook for a year with the Thunder back when they had him, KD, James Harden and Serge Ibaka all together on the same team and yes at the same time!!! I got a chance to see up close and personal who Russell Westbrook was as a person. All these people who don’t know him and can’t separate who a person is on the court vs who they are off the court really should do their homework before publicly disparaging someone in a baseless rant as Jason Whitlock did and to be quite honest, consistently loves to do especially with Black athletes, but that’s another issue for another article. My point being, if Whitlock or anyone else ever took an opportunity to sit five minutes with Westbrook and hear his heart and the
man he is off the court, they would have a completely different view of Russell Westbrook.