When it comes to the recent surge in fan incidents at NBA games, Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks has thoughts. Many thoughts. It starts with embarrassment for the NBA fans who decide to embark on a fool’s errand and ends with a remark on how his mother would have disciplined him had Brooks ever behaved in such a manner.
And between those two thoughts are about five minutes of other thoughts, part of a ranging monologue after Monday’s 122-114 Washington win over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series that included another “knucklehead” moment in the third quarter.
“That was a long answer, but I’m tired of it,” Brooks said before catching a second wind and continuing for another minute.
With a return of fans to arenas after ample time away because of the coronavirus pandemic, there have been several well-documented cases of poor fan behavior in the first week of the NBA playoffs alone.
In New York, a fan tried to spit on Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young. The Wizards’ Russell Westbrook had popcorn poured on his head as he left the court in Philadelphia, nursing an injury. Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving had a water bottle thrown at him in Boston. And three Utah Jazz fans were ejected for hurling racial insults at the parents of Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant.
Those fans have been banned from their respective arenas, and the police have gotten involved in some instances. The fan in Boston accused of throwing the water bottle at Irving has been charged with assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon.
The latest example came Monday night during the 76ers-Wizards game when a fan ran down an aisle of seats and onto the court. Once he reached the floor, he turned and slapped the backboard. And once he landed, a security guard was there, dropping his shoulders and tackling him to the court with pristine form.
“That was a great tackle,” Brooks said. “I don’t know if the football club needs it, but that was a great tackle.”
Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the Wizards, announced the fan would be banned from Capital One Arena and that charges were being pursued with the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department.
Brooks acknowledged that the fans in question are outliers, each one in a throng who decides to do the wrong thing. That doesn’t take away from all the other great fans in Boston, New York, Washington and elsewhere, he said.
Still, “it’s unacceptable,” Brooks said, adding that he doesn’t want one fan ruining the fun for the rest of the crowd.
“Stay home,” he said. “We don’t need you. We don’t need your dollars. Just stay home. Get away from us. Let the fans who enjoy it, let them be with their families enjoying it.”
Brooks wonders what banning fans actually means, though. How can the arena ensure those fans don’t enter in the future?
“Is there facial recognition that you can’t get a ticket on the secondary market and don’t shave for a week and wear a hat and still come in?” he asked. “I don’t know if it’s criminal charges, but they gotta get something on their record and they gotta get exposed and they have to pay money out of their own pocket.”
Brooks said fans “have no fear” of acting badly, and the only way there will be a change is if harsh repercussions come down on those fans whose actions put players more at risk than fans.
If there’s a retaliation, “there would’ve been a major lawsuit that a guy can’t see. Broke his neck because the popcorn hit him,” Brooks said. “All these athletes have to defend themselves and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and get their name tarnished.”
But Bradley Beal knows that while fans might throw insults — and popcorn and water bottles — they won’t actually approach him.
“I know no fan would try me individually,” Beal said. “You can throw anything at me, but you’re not going to approach me and try nothing. I know that. I feel good. Yeah, we should be protected as players because we’re not able to retaliate and respond in ways which normal human beings would do. But we have a job and a career that we need to protect. But I would like to see the league and some of these arenas have a safer and maybe protect the players more type of environment. But I wouldn’t say ‘less safe.’ I don’t want to use my ‘hood term, but these hands work.”
There’s a clear difference to Brooks about what’s acceptable and what’s not. When he was a player, playing 10 seasons for six teams, he got used to heckling. There’s nothing wrong with that, he said, although he admitted he didn’t hear much himself — he only averaged 13.6 minutes per game in his career.
“We love to be heckled,” Brooks said. “I love it as a coach. I love it. As a player, I loved it when they heckled me for my two minutes. Russell, he loves to be heckled. But there’s crossing the line. I didn’t have a father, but my mom, she wouldn’t allow me to ever think about doing that. It’s a privilege. It’s a lot of money everybody pays. I know when I go to sporting events with my kids when they were young, I didn’t want hear people use foul language. It’s embarrassing, and we have to control that.”
As Brooks wound down his five-minute monologue, his thoughts wandered to his mother again. He knows what would have happened to him had he behaved in such a “barbaric” manner at a game.
“I know my mom,” he said. “I would’ve had the nearest branch ripped off, and it would’ve been on my behind if I did something that stupid.”
• Andy Kostka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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