The NBA has an advantage over all other sports in that its fans are close to the players. Not only does it have a completely unique social media landscape that allows fans to see the individual personalities of the biggest stars, but it also allows fans to be just a few feet away from the action when some of the top athletes in the world compete.
At times, however, that proximity can lead to unfortunate situations, such as the one in Salt Lake City on Monday night. Cameras caught Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook threatening two fans after they allegedly told him to “get down on your knees like you’re used to” which Westbrook took to have racial undertones.
On Tuesday, the Utah Jazz announced that they have banned the fan from their arena for life and Westbrook was fined by the league for his outburst.
That same night, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James was asked about the situation and, as always, put it in clear terms (h/t Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll for the transcript):
On Russell Westbrook and the fan in Utah, LeBron James supports Westbrook and the Jazz for banning the fan. He added there’s a bold line, not a fine line, between cheering for your team and being disrespectful. “Everyone knows when you’re crossing that line.” pic.twitter.com/XiCEZcaWdw
— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) March 13, 2019
“I did not see it when it happened. Obviously, I heard about it today. I wanted to get all the information before I even commented on it. I think that situation, the fan was out of line and what he said to Russ, there comes a point where it’s about respect and the only thing we’ve got in life is respect, at the end of the day. We can play basketball, we can report about the game, you guys can cover the game, but at the end of the day as a man, all you guys show respect.
“That guy crossed a line. It was funny that he tried to backtrack and say what he didn’t do, I’ve never seen a fan get interviewed like that before…. And as bad as social media is, the good thing in social media came out when they went through everything he said about Russ, and said about other people in his little timeline. Obviously, Russ is a very passionate guy, but Russ is married with three kids. A set of twins. And no matter if you like him or love him, or the way he plays the game, the guy is one of the most loyal people I know, one of the most down to earth guys that I know and that guy just took it too far on the other end. They could have missed some words, Russ could have said it a little bit differently, but at the end of the day he was right and the guy was in the wrong…
“I salute the Utah Jazz in what their organization did and we move forward. But fans understand that they pay hard-earned money to watch our beautiful game and watch our beautiful players and I respect that, but there’s a fine line when you got to the disrespectful side. Am I cheering my team on? Am I heckling the opposing guy? Or am I crossing a line? And there’s a fine line, well there’s not a fine line, that line is very bold. Everyone knows that when you’re crossing that line. So there it is.”
James is right. Heckling is part of the game. But when you have one of the most hated and heckled athletes in the game choosing this specific instance to react to a fan, you can be certain that said fan crossed a line.
Kudos to the Jazz for acting quickly and justly.