After the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs, we have witnessed a great deal of disorderly conduct on the part of NBA fans. In one week, the NBA reported four incidents in which fans publicly embarrassed players. From racial slurs and insults to throwing food and drinks, when does the NBA step in to enforce rules that hold fans accountable for their insidious behavior? NBA players have exercised great professionalism, but when it comes to fan misconduct, there should be no double standards. NBA players, including Russell Westbrook, Trae Young, Kyrie Irving and Ja Morant, have been the victims of disorderly conduct by fans.
“In a civilized society, we already know better. And the fact that you’re doing it is just because you think you can. “- Stephen A. Smith
Fan the flames
During Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Washington Wizards, Russell Westbrook fell with an apparent ankle injury in the 4th quarter. As Westbrook made his way to the locker room, a fan threw popcorn at him as he exited the tunnel adding “insult to injury.” Westbrook was hysterical as security guards had to restrain him to prevent further altercations with the alleged fan. Westbrook, like many other NBA players, has been a victim of the media for his reactions towards discordant fans.
“To be completely honest, the [expletive] it’s getting out of control, especially for me. The amount of disrespect and the number of fans who just do whatever it is [expletive] I want to do. “- Russell Westbrook
Following the popcorn incident, Westbrook gave a public response at the postgame conference highlighting the importance of player protection in NBA stadiums. Soon after, the Sixers issued a statement apologizing to Westbrook and the Wizards organization. The identified fan was a season ticket holder who will have their membership revoked and banned from all events at Wells Fargo Arena.
Bedlam in the garden
After a tough battle in Game 1 between the New York Knicks and the Atlanta Hawks, things got fierce at Madison Square Garden. Trae Young was cast as Public Enemy No. 1 after his late-game heroics. Following the Hawks’ victory in Game 1, Young was interrupted by 15,000 Knicks fans as he tried to secure a victory in Game 2. However, an electric night at the Garden was overshadowed by the disrespectful actions of a fan of the Knicks. In the fourth quarter, Young entered the touchline when a fan spits at him from the third row.
Shortly after Game 2, MSG reviewed the footage and confirmed that a customer deliberately spits on Young. The identified fan has been indefinitely banned from Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately, the NBA must begin to enforce rules that hold fans accountable for misconduct in stadiums, there must be a zero-tolerance policy for any form of abuse towards players. Several sports broadcasters have questioned how the NBA should deal with fan misbehavior and what underpins the need to jail fans.
“A ticket to the arena is not an exit to civilization. By the way, the law of civility is there to protect the people who need it. “- Max Kellerman
Boston Celtics fan throws water bottle at Kyrie Irving
Following a 141-126 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 4, a Celtic fan allegedly threw a bottle of water at Brooklyn Nets Kyrie Irving as he left the court at TD Garden. Fans pointed to the suspected suspect who was later identified and escorted by Boston police. El Fan was arrested and taken into custody where he was charged with assault and battery. According to Boston Police, the identified suspect is 21-year-old Cole Buckley.
“It’s been that way in history in terms of entertainment, artists and sports for a long period of time and just the underlying racism and treating people like they’re in a human zoo.” – Kyrie Irving
TD Garden has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to guest code violations, the media praised TD Garden staff for how they resolved the situation compared to the other incidents. Kyrie Irving spoke to the media and insisted that the incident may be related to systemic racial tension. Irving has spoken a message that resonates with fellow African American athletes who have come under fire for fan misconduct.
Several sports fans have wondered if this underlying problem is based on race or a sense of entitlement. The NBA must support players and enforce new policies that hold fans accountable for their actions, as we saw in Boston. From an entertainment standpoint, the NBA playoffs are spectacular, yet player safety should be the top priority and should not be compromised.