SALT LAKE CITY — The Jazz are trying to turn Monday’s fan altercation with Russell Westbrook into a positive.
It was an ugly moment that caught the attention of the nation. For Westbrook, he got fined. For the fan, Shane Keisel, he got a lifetime ban from all Jazz games. But the organization is trying to have the altercation lead to change for the better.
“Anytime you have an incident that is unfortunate, you hope that there can be a catalyst for positive change,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We are lucky to work for an organization and for the Miller family that is very aware and all those things. There’s steps being taken and those people, players, everybody is aware, and things will be done. Things will be done. I think that there is a plan being formed.”
Snyder partially echoed Donovan Mitchell’s statement from Tuesday when the second-year guard said that he wanted to work his team, teammates and the NBA to make arenas and communities more inclusive to all fans.
“I don’t have all the answers, but this off-season I will work through my foundation, SPIDACARES, to take a closer look at race issues across this country to see what I can do to help combat against racial inequality,” Mitchell said. “I am asking all of you to join me in this process because when we all stand up and speak up, change happens.”
Since the incident occurred, there’s been a constant theme that has emerged from the players in the league: there needs to be more protection from some of the more rowdy fans.
Thunder players Raymond Felton, Dennis Schroeder and Westbrook immediately mentioned this sentiment following Monday’s game, and it’s been reiterated by players throughout the league — including by Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Thabo Sefolosha — in the days since.
“It’s just not fair for fans to say stuff about their family, or girlfriends, wives, kids — you just don't do stuff like that,” Schroeder said. “In that situation, I don’t even know what I would do.”
But the league is hoping he won't have to find out.
Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, told ESPN the NBPA is calling for a leaguewide zero-tolerance policy for fans who engage in inappropriate interactions with players. Keisel was given written warnings during Monday’s game. With a zero-tolerance policy, he may have been asked to leave the arena immediately.
A zero-tolerance policy could serve as a deterrent for some of the more zealous fans. But throwing fans out because of accusations might not be something the league wants to go to, either.
It’s a tricky situation.
NBA stars have applauded the Jazz’s swift reaction to the incident. LeBron James told reporters on Tuesday that “I salute the Utah Jazz for doing what they did."
Portland’s Damian Lillard told ESPN that “It was good that they took a strong stance right away. I don’t think it’s something you take lightly, especially if you want to put that message out there that it won’t be tolerated.”
But it’s not just a Utah problem. It’s a league-wide one. Felton said that he has heard hate speech all around the NBA, specifically mentioning a recent game in Portland. And former Jazz player Raja Bell defended the Jazz fan base on Wednesday on his Off The Bench podcast.
“I loved Utah, I loved playing there, we loved living there, I love visiting there,” Bell said. I don’t believe it to be a racist town. There are idiots everywhere and that guy was one of them.”
The Jazz and the NBA are now trying to figure out how to keep those types of fans away — or at least silent.