Walden: You should already know that you can’t shout vile and racist things at NBA players, but if you don’t, teams finally now seem willing and able to remind you

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) waves to the crowd as he leaves the court following an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

There really just isn’t a much better illustration of Utah’s insular, white-bread homogeneity than the sheer number of people who’ve taken to social media and comment boards in the last day or two to ask “Why is calling a black man ‘boy’ racist?”

Such are the effects of being born and raised in a culture bubble.

Turns out there is a reason diversity is good and useful — it can teach us all a thing or two.

The Utah Jazz, one can presume, would rather not have been in the news this past week for investigating multiple incidents of racial taunts lobbed by some of their fans at Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook.

The same, undoubtedly, holds true of subsequently choosing to issue a pair of lifetime bans to those individuals.

Yet here they are.

And here we are, for matter. And maybe it’s not such a horrible thing, after all.

Don’t get me wrong — that we are in the year 2019 and still debating whether banning a fan who called a black basketball player “boy” multiple times is a draconian punishment is mind-bogglingly horrible in itself. And, in far more extreme circumstances, if you doubt the capacity of modern racism to wield incalculable destructive capability, maybe read again about what just took place in New Zealand.

So, then, what’s not so horrible about this? Well, simply enough, for far too long, any substantive examination about the intersection of race and sports has been limited to and obfuscated by the silly debate about whether whether Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem makes him more of an ungrateful, arrogant athlete demeaning the sacrifices of American troops or a civil rights activist of sorts, stoking an important dialogue.

“Important dialogue” is the operative phrase here. If nothing else, this situation has exposed some harsh truths, shone a bright and unforgiving light on the seedy underbelly of sports fandom.

Given that racism is not, sadly, something you read about only in history books, it is inevitable that there will be issues lurking within a sport in which predominantly black participants are competing in front of predominantly white audiences. They are now, at least, no longer out of sight, out of mind.

In the aftermath of Monday’s incident, the Jazz’s own Donovan Mitchell and Thabo Sefolosha publicly expressed their support for Westbrook. Players throughout the league have followed suit, including the likes of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.

The common thread among their messages has been that such incidents are, unfortunately, neither uncommon nor unique. “But,” goes the automatic counterargument, “99 percent of our fans are good people who would never behave that way. It can’t be THAT big a problem, can it?”

Vivint Smart Home Arena has a listed capacity of 18,300; one percent of that figure is 183. Are you OK with 183 people a night yelling racial taunts, homophobic slurs — whatever — at players? At opposing fans? At fellow Jazz fans they simply disagree with?

What number would constitute too many for you? At what point would the threshold tip from acceptable to intolerable?

To its credit, the Jazz organization has decided that number is one. Sadly, two Jazz fans have been deemed to have violated the team’s “Code of Conduct” — to say nothing of standards of basic human decency. But those two fans also have been swiftly handed lifetime bans. Rather than continuing to pretend this is not a substantive, widespread, and pervasive issue, there is, instead, meaningful action being taken.

For far too long, many fans have operated under the standard of “I bought a ticket, so I can say what I want,” with impunity. Sorry, folks, but those days must end. Purchasing a ticket does not and should not give you carte blanche to behave in despicable fashion.

You should know this already. But if you don’t, teams finally now seem willing and able to remind you.


30 for 30 • The Oklahoma City Thunder had been the NBA’s lone holdout from having a sponsorship patch on their jerseys. No more, no more. The team has agreed to a four-year deal with Oklahoma City-based Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, according to ESPN.com. The deal will pay the team just under $10 million per season. The patch was to make its debut Saturday night in the Thunder’s game vs. the Warriors.

You’re gone, and by ‘you,’ I mean both of you • The Bulls’ Jim Boylen and the Clippers’ Doc Rivers were simultaneously tossed from Friday night’s game in the third quarter. Initially, they were both arguing with a referee over an offensive foul call on L.A.’s Montrezl Harrell — the former intimating it was a dirty play that warranted further punishment, the latter suggesting it wasn’t even a foul at all. Soon enough, instead of arguing with the ref, they were arguing with each other. Rivers took the unique situation in stride, saying he enjoyed the rest of the game with some red wine: “The Opus [One wine] was phenomenal while I was watching the fourth quarter.”

Cause and effect? • While Shane Keisel was found to have instigated the incident that prompted Russell Westbrook to retort, “I’ll f— you up,” Westbrook was still fined $25K for directing profanity at a fan. Golden State’s Draymond Green thinks fining players in such situations will only encourage more bad behavior from fans. “[So long as] our penalties are raised and blasted to the world, people will keep doing that. Because at the end of the day, what do they really lose? But our families lose money out of our [pockets] that we provide. I think as long as that happens, [fans] will continue to do it.”