In an ongoing and concerted effort to change public perception about their fans, the Utah Jazz rectified an ill from Vivint Smart Home Arena past, reportedly banning a spectator who repeatedly referred to Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook as “boy” prior to Game 4 of their first-round playoff series last season.
The move comes on the heels of an incident at the Salt Lake City arena during Monday’s Jazz-Thunder matchup, which resulted in the permanent ban of another fan for allegedly directing “excessive and derogatory verbal abuse” at Westbrook.
“The Jazz aren’t taking these matters lightly,” a source told Deseret News beat reporter Eric Woodyard, who broke news on Friday morning of this week’s second lifetime ban of a Jazz fan “for degrading and offensive conduct against Westbrook.”
Following the heated exchange on Monday, Westbrook told reporters that it was not the first time he had been subjected to “completely disrespectful” and “racial” commentary from fans in Utah, alluding to multiple incidents in the 2018 playoffs.
“Especially here in Utah,” said Westbrook, “every time I come here there’s a lot of disrespectful things said. I’m just not going to take the disrespect for my family.”
In his reporting of Monday’s incident, Woodyard resurfaced video of a fan directing derogatory terminology at Westbrook prior to their playoff game on April 23, 2018.
To Russell Westbrook’s defense, here is even further proof of his previous interactions with Utah Jazz fans. In this video, @russwest44 is called a “boy” by a Jazz fan ahead of Game 4 of OKC’s first-round playoff series against Utah on April 23, 2018 at Vivint Arena. pic.twitter.com/lc6slA7fTo
— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) March 13, 2019
NBA players shared stories this week of racist fan interactions, citing Utah as an especially charged environment. Jazz star Donovan Mitchell said, “Racism and hate speech hurts us all, and this is not the first time something like that has happened in our arena. The Utah that I have come to love is welcoming and inclusive and last night’s incident is not indicative of our fanbase. We don’t want to create a negative reputation for athletes who potentially may want to come to Utah.”
In issuing a lifetime ban for Shane Keisel, the fan involved in Monday’s incident, the Jazz vowed in a statement that the organization “will not tolerate fans who act inappropriately. There is no place in our game for personal attacks or disrespect.”
As Mitchell and other players called for increased scrutiny of fan behavior across the league, the NBA reportedly sent a league-wide memo calling on teams to create public-service announcements stressing the “importance of respect and civility.”
On Thursday, Jazz owner Gail Miller addressed the Utah crowd prior to her team’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, saying, “I am extremely disappointed that one of our ‘fans’ conducted himself in such a way as to offend not only a guest in our arena, but also me personally, my family, our organization, the community, our players and you as the best fans in the NBA. This should never happen. We are not a racist community. We believe in treating people with courtesy and respect as human beings.” She concluded by adding, “No one wins when respect goes away.”
Per Woodyard, the Jazz held internal discussions about the severity of the issue in their arena, and an investigation into the 2018 incident resulted as part of an effort to improve player-fan relations. The team reportedly identified the second fan and issued another lifetime ban as a result. That fan’s name has not been made public.
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