The Utah Jazz have permanently banned Shane Keisel, a fan who directed “excessive and derogatory verbal abuse” to Russell Westbrook during the second quarter of Monday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The ban includes all Vivint Smart Home Arena events.
Meanwhile, Westbrook was fined $25,000 by the NBA for directing profanity and threatening language to a fan, the league announced Tuesday afternoon.
“Everyone deserves the opportunity to enjoy and play the game in a safe, positive and inclusive environment,” Steve Starks, president of the Jazz, said in a statement. “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.”
According to Westbrook and his Thunder teammates, Keisel told the Oklahoma City point guard "to get down on your knees like you used to.” Keisel, though, disagreed, telling ESPN that he told Westbrook to “ice those knees up!”
After reviewing the video, and speaking to fan and staff eyewitnesses to the exchange, the Jazz supported Westbrook’s account, and by doing so, found Keisel had violated the NBA Code of Conduct. If Keisel steps foot in the arena, he can be arrested for trespassing.
Westbrook responded to Keisel’s verbal abuse by threatening the spectator and his wife, saying “I swear to god, I’ll f--- you up. You and your wife, I’ll f--- you up. Promise you on everything I love, I promise you.” Westbrook’s response to the exchange was caught on a widely circulated video by another fan.
After the game, Westbrook said he didn’t regret his actions.
"If I had to do it over again, I would say the same exact thing. I truly will stand up for myself and my family and my wife and my mom and my dad every single time, I expect anybody else to do the same,” Westbrook said.
Jazz players Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Thabo Sefolosha all issued statements about the matter.
“I am personally hurt by the incident at the game on March 11. 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 hit close to home,” Mitchell wrote. “Racism and hate speech hurts us all, and this is not the first time that 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.”
Gobert asserted he’d never heard racist comments on the floor at Vivint Arena, but said that fans can make the environment unruly.
“Sometimes it almost feels like a zoo,” Gobert told ESPN. "People pay money to watch us and feel like they can touch us or do whatever they want. Because we make millions, we’re just expected to shut up and take it. But they can’t do whatever they want.
“In my six years playing for the Jazz and in Salt Lake City, I never heard any racist comment towards me or anyone. I have heard fans being disrespectful of players, and I really don’t like that, but I haven’t heard anything racist,” Gobert told ESPN. “It’s not representative of our community. There’s bad people everywhere, and I think they just need to be held accountable, and he will be held accountable.”
Still, Gobert supported Westbrook. “We have his back,” Gobert said. “As much as I like to compete against Russ — and there’s always a little trash talk between me and him — as a human being, I feel for him and I understand his reaction.”
Sefolosha’s statement was similar. “I stand 100% with Russell Westbrook on what happened in yesterday’s game. I love our fans but there are lines that cannot be crossed! Support and cheer for your team and enjoy the action but fans like Shane Keisel, who use that platform to share their hateful and racist views need to be held accountable.”
On Thursday, it appears the Jazz indeed held Keisel accountable.