The incidents of fans crossing the line in what they say to NBA players — and building security not doing enough to those fans — continues.
The latest episode came in Denver Friday night, when a fan sitting courtside told Marcus Smart “get on your knees,” which led to Smart and the fan jawing at each other. That fan was not removed despite Smart pointing him out to Denver arena security.
Smart spoke about it after the game, quote via Chris Forsberg at NBC Sports Boston (the video is above):
“My foot got stuck in a chair and a fan told me, ‘That’s right, stay on the ground, get on your knees,’” said Smart. “Excuse me? You know what I’m saying. I just told him, ‘Listen, just watch the game,’ because, if we retaliate to you guys, or we were on the street, you probably wouldn’t say that.
“I guarantee you wouldn’t say that because we’re grown men just like you. I told the security, they didn’t do anything about it. Just gotta move on. But that’s a problem in the league that we gotta fix because, if we retaliate to protect ourselves, we’re the ones getting in trouble. They’re not. And that’s not right.”
Smart is right on here. Fans have the right to boo opposing players and even heckle, but some lines should not and cannot be crossed without punishment.
This is not the first incident like this, with Russell Westbrook confronting a fan in Utah yelling racist slurs being the most noted of a series of incidents. The Jazz ended up taking that moment to do some reflection and be clear to their fans about behavior.
Anyone seated within a few rows of the arena has a postcard-sized note attached to their chair warning they can be removed for vulgar or offensive language (particularly if expressed toward a player). However, players will be quick to tell you enforcement of that is spotty. Arena security often can be slow to throw out a season ticket holder and/or someone paying for expensive seats near the court.
The players — individually and through the players union — have expressed that concern to teams and the league. The league office has reached out to teams, trying to improve enforcement, but it ultimately comes down to the men and women in uniform in the areas.
The language here echos what is going on in our national discourse, with certain people being more comfortable in expressing clearly racist sentiments. That has spilled over to NBA arenas, and players are ready and willing to push back.