NBA Commissioner Adam Silver revealed in an NBA Finals news conference that he spoke with Jazz players in the wake of the Russell Westbrook heckling incident this March.
“I spoke directly to the players on that team, as a team... I wanted to make sure they were satisfied with the way it was handled," Silver said. “They seemed to be satisfied, as well."
"I told them that I appreciated the way that they had handled it and that it was not going to be tolerated in the NBA, and that we also appreciated the way they had come together with management and ownership of that team,” Silver said. “I felt their response was spot on.”
Shane Keisel, a Jazz fan, was banned permanently from Vivint SmartHome Arena after the verbal altercation, in which Westbrook alleged that Keisel had told him "to get down on (his) knees like you used to.” A Jazz security investigation confirmed Westbrook’s story.
Later that week, a second video surfaced of another fan calling Westbrook, a star with the Oklahoma City Thunder, “boy” during the 2018 NBA playoffs. That fan was also banned.
Silver said he thought the Jazz handled the incidents well.
“We have such tremendous confidence in the Miller family, and Gail Miller as the principal owner," he said. “I thought by her taking the court prior to the following game, speaking directly to the people in that community and saying, ‘This does not represent our community,’ I think that was much more powerful than me issuing a statement from all the way across country in the New York.”
The commissioner also noted that he felt fan conduct has improved generally over the years.
“Over my tenure in the league, things have gotten much, much better in arena than they were in the old days, but there’s always room for improvement,” Silver said.
“I think standards in society have changed in terms of what’s appropriate for people to say. As I’ve said before, I think there is a legitimate expectation that you buy your ticket, you go into an arena... that people would say, yes, you’re allowed to yell and scream when a guy’s on the free-throw line or whatever else,” Silver said.
But other activities clearly cross a line, Silver said.
“Then there’s something else that we call it hate speech which is clearly impermissible. And I think the issue is, if we just made a list, we know we wouldn’t capture everything, and there’s some aspect of you know it when you see it, and there’s also some words that otherwise aren’t incendiary, it’s the way they’re said or if they’re said in a threatening manner.”
Thanks to improvements in arena security technology — and the devices available to fans — the NBA also now feels more confident than ever in its ability to police bad behavior.
“I also want to send a clear message to those small, tiny minority of fans who might engage in that sort of conduct that it absolutely won’t be tolerated, and also that we’re going to catch you. Because in every one of our arenas now not only are there numerous, high-definition cameras pointed at stands so we’re going to see it, but also there’s 18,000 fellow spectators who are holding high-definition cameras in their hands,” Silver said.
“There aren’t many incidents now when a player points something out and says somebody did something, where we’re not going to be able to get tape and see exactly what happened and ban that fan from the arena, if necessary.”
In March, that’s exactly what the Jazz did, and according to the commissioner, the players were “satisfied” with the response.