Growing up with heroes as a child, we often develop habits of idolizing people that continue into adulthood–often to the point where we place them on a pedestal above everyone thinking they can do no wrong. In fact, I think one of the biggest errors in judgement we make about others is the assumption that they are either all good or all bad all of the time. The reality is that we are all dichotomous creatures and our moods often shift with the breeze.
Even though we may give our friends, and significant other room to have a bad mood every now and again, we often don’t offer the same luxury to those we look up to. Although it can be disappointing to see someone we respect and admire lose their grip, it’s, unfortunately, a non-negotiable part of our human condition. So unless your heroes are only those who exist in comic books (and let’s be honest, a lot of mine are) you stand to be let down from time to time.
For example, I’ve been a fan of Michael Jordan for as long as I can remember. Growing up, Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were everything, and being just like Mike was the cool thing to do. Later on in life, I watched Jordan’s acceptance speech into the NBA Hall of Fame. While the speech was inspiring overall, I felt disappointed by how Jordan seemed to take cheap shots at those who had doubted him before he was famous. In my idealized perception of His Airness, he would never stoop as low as to publicly embarrass someone else. He was always a class act, and above such base indulgences.
There was also that incident with the 2004 Detroit Pistons in which Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest), and Ben Wallace took to the stands to engage in an all-out brawl with the fans attending the game that evening. I remember watching that game live with my dad and being completely stunned as elite specimens of men threw punches at short, overweight, dunk fans.
Years later, there is a similar scandal taking place now with Russell Westbrook. We know the typically stone-faced Westbrook isn’t Mr. Congeniality, but he’s gotten into some trouble lately for engaging in a verbal altercation with mouthy fan Shane Keisel at a Utah Jazz game recently.
Westbrook was quoted saying, “I’ll **** you up, you and your wife,” in response to the fan saying “get down on your knees like you used to,” which Westbrook perceived as a racially charged insult. Keisel denied the accusations.
*It should be noted that Keisel’s social media accounts were found, and he regularly posts racist, homophobic, and violent content.*
Utah Jazz Owner Gail Miller issued a statement in front of the fans at a Jazz game later that week condemning the “disrespect” of what she called a “quote fan”. The Jazz organization then issued a lifetime ban on the “fan” who made those racially charged comments to Westbrook, and Miller warned fans that the Jazz code of conduct would be strictly enforced.
Commenting on the matter after the game Westbrook said,
The young man and his wife in the stands told me to get down on my knees like you used to, and for me that is completely disrespectful. I think it is racial. It is inappropriate.
There are people that come to the games to say mean disrespectful things about me and my family. For many years I have done all the right things and never done anything to hurt or harm anybody. Never been in any trouble. Never fought a fan.
This latest issue seems to have been the last straw for Westbrook as he has been critical of the behavior of Jazz fans previously.
Here in Utah, man, a lot of disrespectful, vulgar things are said to the players here with these fans. It’s truly disrespectful. Talk about your families, your kids.
Westbrook was issued a $25,000 fine for issuing profanity and threatening language to a fan, and in response he stated,
For me, I’m just not going to continue to take the disrespect for my family. There’s got to be something done. There’s got to be some consequences for those type of people that come to the game just to say and do whatever they want to say. I don’t think it’s fair to the players.
In the days following the incident, many NBA players expressed their support for Wesbrook and condemnation of Keisel’s behavior. Interestingly, Kyrie Irving noted that this type of behavior from fans toward players happens all the time.
So what are we to make of this situation?
Well, it appears the Westbrook incident with Keisel is just one example of something that takes place on a regular basis. Are we to expect these NBA players to allow themselves to be disrespected and insulted each day on the job? How would we all feel if we were verbally accosted every time we walked into the office? I’d wager we probably would be pretty upset and would tell the offending party right where they could go.
While I can’t condone violent threats, I also can’t say I would have done anything differently had I been in Westbrook’s shoes. In fact, he probably handled it much better than any of us would have.
Westbrook is an NBA icon, but like all of us, he’s just a human.
It’s the responsibility of the NBA, and of the individual organizations to create a safe working environment for their employees just like any other organization. I hope to see the NBA, and the franchises crack down hard on unruly fans so that our favorite players can thrive and so that we can continue to enjoy great entertainment.