New York — NBA star Russell Westbrook will play in Utah again one day.
When he does, a fan who allegedly made racial taunts against him, will not be there to watch.
A day after the Oklahoma City Thunder standout directed vulgar comments — which were captured on video and went viral — toward two fans, the Utah Jazz responded by permanently banning a fan from their arena. Westbrook also got support from Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, who said it wasn’t the first time a racially motivated event happened at a Jazz game.
“The Utah Jazz will not tolerate fans who act inappropriately,” the Jazz said in a statement. “There is no place in our game for personal attacks or disrespect.”
Westbrook was fined $25,000 for “directing profanity and threatening language to a fan.” In the video, which was posted to Twitter by The Deseret News, Westbrook is seen on the sideline near the Thunder bench saying “I’ll (bleep) you up, you and your wife.”
The comment, and threatening a woman, is not a good look for the image-conscious NBA — especially since it came from a former Most Valuable Player and one of the game’s biggest stars.
But Westbrook, who has had multiple angry in-game exchanges with fans, insisted that Monday night’s video during a 98-89 Oklahoma City win over the Jazz told only one side of the story. He said he was responding to a racial taunt, and not for the first time in Salt Lake City.
“Every time I come here, a lot of disrespectful things are said,” Westbrook said. He added that he has never physically abused a woman and never would.
The man Westbrook was shouting at during the game, identified as Shane Keisel, denied saying anything improper or profane. The Jazz did not name Keisel in their statement announcing the ban.
What exactly happened is unclear, but some of Westbrook’s peers in the NBA came to his defense Tuesday, saying fans who sit near players in many arenas now feel emboldened to say things that would be described as disrespectful or worse. Mitchell said he will devote some time in the coming months to try to combat racial inequality.
“Racism and hate speech hurts us all, and this is not the first time something like this has happened in our arena,” Mitchell said. “The Utah that I have come to love is welcoming and inclusive, and last night’s incident is not indicative of our fan base.”
Ibaka suspended 3 games
The NBA has suspended Toronto’s Serge Ibaka for three games and Cleveland’s Marquese Chriss for one game for their involvement in an on-court fight.
Chriss will sit out Cleveland’s game Tuesday in Philadelphia. Ibaka will miss Toronto’s games against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, at Detroit on Sunday and against New York on Monday.