- - Tuesday, March 12, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has a problem, and it’s not, as he said last week, players depressed by social media.

It was America waking up Tuesday morning to a video of one of its star players telling a man and woman sitting in the stands of an NBA game that he would “f– you up. You and your wife. I’ll f– you up.”

For a league that took years to recover from the “Malice in the Palace,” when players went into the stands and attacked fans, the NBA had to take a stand when one one of its stars threatened patrons as if he were in a nightclub and someone bumped into him or looked at him the wrong way.

I don’t know what Shane Keisel said to Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook during the game against the Utah Jazz Monday night in Salt Lake City. Amid revelations of racial insults on his social media account and other issues, the Jazz permanently banned Keisel on Tuesday.

The 45-year-old fan’s transgressions, however, don’t excuse Westbrook, who was hit with a $25,000 fine by the league Tuesday.



Fans had no business throwing drinks at Ron Artest during the scuffle he was involved in with Ben Wallace in 2004. But no one in their right mind would argue that throwing drinks justified players going into the stands and fighting fans.

That incident has been called the worst night in the history of the NBA — though I would argue that the night Wizards forward Andray Blatche grabbed the microphone after a game and told fans he was their captain is right up there.

Westbrook threatening a man and a woman with vulgar language is not physical assault. But it conjures up a horrible image the league cannot tolerate. Whether a $25,000 fine gets that message across is debatable. What’s not debatable is the cost to the league if these confrontations between players and fans continue to escalate.

Westbrook told reporters that Keisel yelled at him to “get down on your knees like you’re used to,” which Westbrook took as a racially inappropriate insult. If Keisel indeed said that (he said in an interview he didn’t), Westbrook is right. It is insulting and inappropriate.

But insults and taunts, no matter how loaded, cannot be answered with threats in a public setting where the league does its business. As the Jazz showed, there is a protocol for dealing with abusive fans.

Threatening to “f– you up” and then, really horrifically, threatening to do the same to someone’s wife (Westbrook said Keisel’s wife repeated the taunts), is dangerously close to going into the stands and attacking customers.

Westbrook’s loss of composure had to have consequences — especially in light of the guard’s unapologetic explanation after the game.

“For me, I’m just not going to continue to take disrespect for my family,” said Westbrook, who has a history of problems with Jazz fans. “I just think 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 — not just to me, but I don’t think it’s fair to the players.

“And if I had to do it again, I would say the same exact thing, because I truly will stand up for myself, for my family, for my kids, for my wife, for my mom, for my dad every single time,” Westbrook said. “I expect anybody else to do the same. So that’s kind of where I’m at with the whole situation. As for beating up his wife, I have never put my hand on a woman; I never will. Never been in any domestic violence before. Never have before, but once he said the comment, his wife repeated the same thing to me as well. So that’s kind of how that started. I know you guys only got the tail end of the video, but the start of the video is way more important and way more disrespectful than what you guys heard.”

Standing up for his family, his wife, kids, mom and dad, is not threatening to “f–” up a man and a woman up in full view of what has now turned out to be, thanks to the viral video, the whole country and the league’s international fans as well.

Is this the image the NBA wants?

Keisel told ESPN he did not say anything inappropriate to Westbrook and it “started off as fun” with him yelling at Westbrook to “ice those knees up!” After Westbrook said that it was heat on his knees, Keisel said he yelled, “You’re going to need it.” Keisel said his wife, Jennifer Huff, didn’t say anything.

But it really doesn’t matter what Keisel or his wife said.

The NBA may have a fan problem in Utah that it needs to address, but first the league needs to make clear to players that threatening to physically hurt fans in NBA arenas is unacceptable, no matter the provocation.

⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.

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