Westbrook fined $25,000 for incident with Jazz fan
Team bans spectator from all arena events
Russell Westbrook, one of the NBA’s highest-profile stars, threatened a Utah Jazz fan at a game in Salt Lake City on Monday night after, he said, the fan made a “racial” taunt at him, demanding that he “get down on my knees like you used to.” The Jazz later announced a permanent ban for the fan.
In a video posted on Twitter by a reporter for The Deseret News, Westbrook, who is black, can be seen using expletives to say he will beat up the fan, who appears to be white, and extends the threat to include the man’s wife. The video is about 30 seconds long and does not show the full encounter or what prompted Westbrook, a guard for the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder, to react to the fan.
After the game, Westbrook told reporters that the man had said “disrespectful things” about him and his family that he thought were “racial” and suggested that the video posted online lacked important context.
He acknowledged that he had threatened to beat up the fan’s wife, but said he had “never put his hand on a woman” and “never will.” He also stood by his actions, saying, “If I had to do it over again, I would say the same exact thing.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the NBA announced that it had fined Westbrook $25,000 “for directing profanity and threatening language to a fan.” The announcement came shortly after the Jazz, in a statement, said the fan would be permanently banned from all events at Vivint Smart Home Arena because of “excessive and derogatory verbal abuse directed at a player.” The team said it had conducted an investigation that included reviews of video and eyewitness accounts.
The confrontation between Westbrook and the Jazz fan – who has presented a starkly different description of the episode – is the latest in a series of incidents that spotlight how fans treat athletes and the sometimes explosive consequences that can result, issues that both Westbrook and the NBA have frequently been at the center of.
“There’s no protection for the players,” Westbrook said in his postgame comments, which were transcribed by a reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune and later provided to The New York Times by the Thunder, who otherwise didn’t comment on the incident. “I think there are a lot of great fans who like to come to the game and enjoy the game. And then there are people that come to the game to say disrespectful things about me, my family.”
Westbrook’s teammates backed his account of the interaction. Raymond Felton told reporters that he had overheard the comments made by the fan and said they were “totally disrespectful.”
Multiple news outlets identified the Jazz fan as Shane Keisel. Keisel told ESPN that he did not swear at Westbrook or otherwise say anything inappropriate and that he believed they were having fun. In an interview with local television station KSL, Keisel said Westbrook had been using profanity and “acting a fool,” which fans responded to by heckling him.
Keisel said he saw Westbrook’s knees wrapped in towels, so he told him to “sit down and ice your knees, bro.” Westbrook responded that the wraps were for heat, Keisel said, adding that he then told Westbrook, “Well, you’re going to need it.” Keisel said the woman sitting next to him, who ESPN identified as his wife, Jennifer Huff, did not say anything to Westbrook and had her hands in her lap.
Keisel, who was unavailable for comment, was sitting in the third row on the baseline, near the Thunder bench. Unlike in most other sports, in basketball, fans can sit just a few feet away from players.