In the last week, attorneys representing the Utah Jazz and the Houston Rockets’ Russell Westbrook filed separate responses to fan Shane Keisel’s December lawsuit, which asked for $100 million in damages. The suit claimed defamation and infliction of emotional distress as a result of an exchange between the NBA player and Keisel last March.
Both responses deny Keisel’s claims of reckless behavior by Westbrook and the Jazz. Westbrook’s response specifically denies that Westbrook intentionally inflicted emotional distress on Keisel and girlfriend Jennifer Huff.
Meanwhile, the Jazz’s response states that they “sought to and did appropriately investigate and evaluate the interaction between Mr. Keisel and Mr. Westbrook,” counter to Keisel’s lawsuit. Their investigation included the use of video and eyewitness accounts of what occurred, they say. As a result, the Jazz allege that Keisel “engaged in highly offensive conduct” that justified his ban under the NBA’s Code of Conduct.
“Mr. Keisel admitted making certain statements that could be understood as racist and/or racially motivated,” the Jazz’s response notes. They also write that they never used Keisel’s name in their public statements — that Keisel’s identity was revealed at his discretion in an interview he did after the incident with KSL TV.
In a March game between the Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, Keisel and Westbrook exchanged words from about 25 feet away, as Westbrook stood near his team’s bench while Keisel sat in the stands. Keisel alleges he told Westbrook to ice his knees, while Westbrook told reporters after the game that Keisel told him to “get down on your knees like you used to,” which he understood as a racially motivated statement.
A video of Westbrook’s angry response to the incident went viral. Keisel lost employment with Brent Brown Toyota and SkyWest Airlines and received death threats as a result of the incident, he reported in his lawsuit. He was also banned from all Vivint Arena events in the future.
The Jazz’s response argues that “any alleged reputational injury was caused by Plaintiffs’ own conduct” or by the conduct of others not under Jazz control. Both responses cite freedom of speech laws as well, defending their public statements after the incident.
Both Westbrook and the Jazz are seeking attorneys’ fees associated with defending the lawsuit.