There seems to be wide agreement that behavior like what happened on Monday night, when a fan directed “excessive and derogatory verbal abuse” to Russell Westbrook during Monday’s Jazz/Thunder contest at Vivint Smart Home Arena, needs to be curtailed and, ideally, eliminated.
Arena security around the NBA is tasked with securing the NBA’s Code of Conduct for both fans and players. That code includes the key points “Players will respect and appreciate each and every fan” as well as “Guests will enjoy the basketball experience free from disruptive behavior, including foul or abusive language or obscene gestures.” Clearly, both aspects were violated on Monday.
In order to prevent this kind of behavior, security puts “Conduct Advisory” cards on seats in the first few rows of the arena before every game. Those cards read “Inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated. Fans who engage in such behavior will be subject to ejection and/or cancellation of the ticket holder’s account.”
From there, the arena policies call for security personnel to stand in the tunnel area between the opposing bench and the crowd. Given the Jazz’s history with the Oklahoma City Thunder, as well as past complaints from Westbrook, the arena appeared to put additional security members in that area ahead of Monday’s game.
Once the fans in the area — including Shane Keisel, the fan permanently banned from all Vivint Smart Home Arena events in the future — started making derogatory comments at Westbrook, Westbrook walked over to arena security to point out Keisel. Security pulled Keisel to the tunnel, where he presumably gave the same story he later told ESPN: he told Westbrook to “ice those knees up!” rather than telling Westbrook "to get down on your knees like you used to,” as Westbrook alleged.
A subsequent investigation, including video evidence and eyewitness accounts, confirmed Westbrook’s version of events. That resulted in Keisel’s permanent ban.
Security issued Keisel a “warning card." That card reads “You are being issued a warning that the comments, gestures and/or behaviors that you have directed at players, coaches, game officials and/or other spectators constitute excessive verbal abuse and are in violation of the NBA Fan Code of Conduct. This is the first and only warning that you will receive. If, after receiving this warning, you verbally abuse any player, coach, game official or spectator, you will be immediately ejected from the arena without refund.”
Keisel apparently stayed within the Code during the remainder of the game, and was not ejected. A few other fans near the Thunder bench were also given warning cards for their conduct throughout the game, but the investigation did not result in banning anyone but Keisel.
Thunder guard Raymond Felton, on the bench during the incident, criticized Vivint Arena security for how they handled the matter during the game. “The security was standing right there and never said one thing,” Felton said. “He didn’t say one word, he just looked at the people and turned around. Nothing was said. That’s not right. But as soon as Russ goes off, now all of a sudden, all the security and everybody want to come and say something."
“The Utah Jazz will not tolerate fans who act inappropriately. There is no place in our game for personal attacks or disrespect,” the Jazz said in a statement.
But a video that surfaced Tuesday — posted by the Deseret News — showed instances where a Jazz fan yelled derogatory remarks, including the racially-tinged term “boy,” at Westbrook in last year’s playoff series between the two teams. Security was called over in that incident as well, but no ejections were reported at the time.
Regardless of whether security could have done more at the moment of the incident, Jazz fans have been the subject of national scrutiny since, with the issue being debated on sports radio and TV, even on national news programs like Good Morning America.
So a group of Jazz fans, looking to change the perception of Jazz fans that was marred, have started a GoFundMe campaign. The campaign seeks to raise $25K — the amount Russell Westbrook was fined by the NBA for directing obscenities towards the fans in response — to give to the Human Right Campaign Foundation.
“In light of recent events between Russell Westbrook & a few outlying Jazz fans, I am calling for the true, loyal, welcoming & kind Utah Jazz fans to show our true colors,” Devin Deaton, a Jazz fan from Sandy, explained in the GoFundMe’s description.
“It is time to change the narrative on citizens of Utah, fans of the Jazz and those that call Utah 'home,’” Deaton continued. “We are not a bunch of redneck, racist, bigots. Most of us are dads, moms, friends, hard-workers, kind-hearted, do right by each other, help our fellow man, good neighbors and welcoming to all.”
The GoFundMe had raised $5000 by Wednesday afternoon after being started late Tuesday.