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Should rules be changed after the Westbrook-fan incident?

By Ryan Miller, KSL.com | Posted - Mar. 12, 2019 at 2:33 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — Russell Westbrook knows you’ve likely seen the video of his confrontation with a fan who was seated near the Oklahoma City Thunder bench during Monday’s game.

He knows you’ve probably heard his profanity-laced threats — both to the fan as well as the woman seated next to him — and the promise that they were, indeed, real. But what you didn’t see was what was said to provoke such a tirade.

“The start of it was way more important and way more disrespectful than what you guys heard,” Westbrook told the media following the game.

There are varying accounts of what was said. Numerous Thunder players, including Westbrook, said they heard the fan, identified as Shane Kiesel, tell Westbrook to “get on your knees like you’re used to.” Keisel, the 45-year-old fan involved in the incident, said that he just told the Thunder All-Star to “sit down and ice your knees.”

And the beginning appeared to more important than the end, after all, if only because of how ugly the end was. Ugly for Westbrook. Ugly for Jazz fans. Ugly for the NBA. And especially ugly for Keisel.

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On Tuesday, Keisel was permanently banned by the Utah Jazz from attending all arena events. The ban, which is effective immediately, came following an investigation that included video review and eyewitness accounts. The Jazz said the ban is based on excessive and derogatory verbal abuse directed at a player during the game that violated the NBA Code of Conduct.

“Offensive and abusive behavior does not reflect the values of the Miller family, our organization and the community," Jazz president Steve Starks said. "We all have a responsibility to respect the game of basketball and, more importantly, each other as human beings.

Having one of the league’s most high-profile stars threaten a fan with violence while using multiple expletives, isn’t what the NBA would consider a success. And with the number of times that Utah fans have been accused of being “racist” in the past — Matt Barnes recently said he heard racist remarks while recalling a Warriors-Jazz playoff series from 2007 — the fan base likely didn’t want any more fuel added to that fire.

But could the incident lead to rule changes concerning crowd behavior? The Thunder won’t be complaining if it does.

Monday’s incident wasn’t the first time NBA stars have heard disrespectful comments from fans — and it just doesn’t happen in Salt Lake City, either.

“People can say whatever they want to us,” OKC’s Raymond Felton said. “They talk about our families, talk about our kids. We got kids, we are fathers, we have families and people can just blurt out what they want to say about us. That’s just not fair; that’s not right.”

In a statement provided by his agent, Utah's Donovan Mitchell said that "over the coming months, I will work with the team, my teammates and the league to help make our arenas and our communities more inclusive and welcoming. That includes bans on hate speech and racism."

The aftermath of this incident alone should have fans and players trying to show more restraint at games.

Soon after Keisel did a couple of interviews about the altercation, his social media accounts were combed through looking for dirt. A Twitter account with his name and picture had some less-than-innocent tweets, including one that was posted during the playoffs last season calling Westbrook “classless” with some crass language. The account was deleted late Monday night.

Fair or not, the Utah fan base has a reputation for crossing the line during games. Former and current players have accused Jazz fans of yelling racial slurs at them during games. And just last season, Westbrook, himself, said that “a lot of disrespectful, vulgar things are said to the players with these fans. It's truly disrespectful.”

Monday’s incident won’t help change that reputation. And it also left Westbrook having to try and explain why he threatened two fans — including a woman — with physical violence.

“I have never put my hands on a woman and I never will,” Westbrook said. “(Keisel) said the comment, his wife repeated the same thing to me as well, and that’s kind of how that started.”

NBA players, including the Jazz’s own Thabo Sefolosha, have stood behind Westbrook.

In an Instagram post, Sefolosha stated that “I love our fans but there are limits that can not be crossed!” Sefolosha, who was Westbrook’s teammate for five seasons in OKC, continued by saying that fans who say “hateful and racist” things should be held accountable.

That statement was echoed in the Thunder locker room after the game.

“At the end of the day we are human beings,” Felton said. “Just like they have feelings, we have feelings too. … Everyone wants to make a big deal about what he said, but let's talk about what they said to him first.”

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