Sports

NBA needs to put unruly fans in check before we have another Malice at the Palace [Updated]

A fan in Philly poured popcorn on Russell Westbrook after Wednesday’s game.

A fan in Philly poured popcorn on Russell Westbrook after Wednesday’s game.
Screenshot: NBCSN

What happened last night to Russell Westbrook was unacceptable.

If you haven’t seen it by now, the Wizards star was walking to the locker room during their Game 2 loss after an apparent injury, and a Philly fan poured popcorn on his head.

Westbrook was rightfully incensed, as multiple people tried to restrain him from confronting the fan who just blatantly disrespected him.

Sadly, inappropriate conduct by fans is nothing new to Westbrook or other NBA players. There have been plenty of instances where fans have said racist and disparaging things to players and have thrown debris at these human beings for no good reason.

I’m old enough to remember when arguably the worst sports brawl in history escalated because of a fan throwing a drink at a player. The infamous Malice at the Palace will always be remembered in history as a dark day for the league. Metta Sandiford-Artest — formerly known as Ron Artest and Metta World Peace — and Stephen Jackson are widely known for their actions on that November night in 2004. But what many don’t remember is that a fan was one of the catalysts to the violence when they threw a beer at Artest who was laying down by the scorers’ table.

Now I’m not saying that Artest’s and Jackson’s actions were justified, but I just want us all to keep all of this in context. If someone throws a beer in your face or throws popcorn at you at your place of employment, I’m sure you aren’t just going to let that slide. While most fans in the league are cool, the NBA has a growing issue with the unruly ones who continue to be disrespectful and endanger players.

At some point the players are going to stand up for themselves and we know for certain the NBA doesn’t want that. 

Here’s what Westbrook said after the game:

To be completely honest, this shit is getting out of hand, especially for me. The amount of disrespect, the amount of fans just doing whatever the fuck they want to do.

There are certain things that cross the line. Any other setting … a guy were to come up on the street and pour popcorn on my head, you know what happens.

In these arenas, you got to start protecting the players. We’ll see what the NBA does.

The Wells Fargo Center released a statement on the incident and called it “classless” and “unacceptable.”

Updated May 27, 2021 at 11:20 a.m.: The fan was ejected from the game after the incident and, according to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, he “will have his season-ticket membership revoked” and “will be banned from all events at Wells Fargo Center indefinitely.”

LeBron James also commented on the incident.

This is an issue that the league should not take lightly, and it must come up with some creative ways to protect the players from this level of vitriol. Fans are needed at these games but they can’t be allowed to dehumanize these men and continue to get away with it.

It’s crazy that we have people who can’t separate the player from the person, and the age of social media has only made the treatment of players worse. There needs to be stricter policing of fans. Booing and smack talking about the game should 100 percent be allowed, but when comments and actions get racial or inappropriate that’s when things get over the line. And, of course, dumping anything on a player is way out of line.

The NBA needs to do a crackdown on these sorts of things by communicating with arena staff and disseminating these no tolerance messages throughout the league.

There needs to be action taken before the NBA gets another black eye like they did in 2004.

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