Tara O’Leary, Staff Writer|
During a game against the Utah Jazz on Monday, March 11, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook had an altercation with a fan. The man in the stands, later identified as Shane Keisel, was shouting to Westbrook in ways that the Thunder star described as “completely disrespectful.” Initially, he spoke to an arena official about the fans behavior: “I’m going to tell you one thing. I’ll f—k him up.” The 30 year old then turned his anger over to Keisel, “I promise you. You think I’m playing,” he shouted. “I swear to God. I’ll f—k you up. You and your wife.”
Westbrook’s interaction with the fan was caught on video and quickly went viral. Many of the videos captured his anger, but didn’t contain the beginning of the altercation. In order to clear the air, the former league MVP commented on the situation after the game: “How it started was, a young man and his wife in the stands told me ‘to get down on your knees like you used to,’” he explained. “I think it’s racial, and I think it’s inappropriate in the sense that there’s no protection for the players.” While Keisel later denied his part of the incident and referred to Westbrook as “classless,” the Thunder star had backup from his teammates and other players around the league. “He’s not coming off and talking to the fans,” said Raymond Felton, “they’re coming at him first.” Boston Celtic’s guard Kyrie Irving also commented on the altercation: “When it’s an individual battle with a person in the crowd and they say something violently disrespectful like that then it’s going to warrant a reaction.” Irving also added that these fan versus player situations happen frequently, this one just happened to be caught on video.
This wasn’t the first time that Westbrook has had an issue with the fans at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Utah. During the first round of the 2018 playoffs, Westbrook got involved with another Jazz supporter: “I don’t confront fans; fans confront me,” he said in regards to the first altercation. “Here in Utah, man, a lot of disrespectful, vulgar things are said to the players here with these fans.”
After Monday’s game, Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller backed the eight-time NBA All-Star. “This should never happen. We are not a racist community. We believe in treating people with courtesy and respect as human beings,” she declared from center court before Thursday’s game against Minnesota. “When bad incidents like Monday night happen, it not only affects the players it’s directed at; it also affects out players.”
Utah Jazz guard, Donovan Mitchell, showed support for his opponent following the team’s game against Oklahoma City. “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 hits close to home,” said Mitchell. “Racism and hate speech hurts us all, and this is not the first time something like this has happened in our arena. The Utah that I have come to love is welcoming and inclusive.”
In response to Westbrook’s altercation with Keisel, the Thunder star has been fined $25,000 by the NBA for “directing profanity and threatening language to a fan.” Meanwhile, the Jazz have taken matters into their own hands, choosing to permanently ban both Keisel and the other fan that Westbrook interacted with in 2018 from games at Vivint Smart Home Arena. “Use your energy cheering our team with your honest, sincere enthusiasm, rather than degrading or demeaning players on the opposing team,” Miller advised Jazz fans. “No one wins when respect goes away.”