Racist comments from fans directed at NBA players is hardly anything new. On Tuesday, the Utah Jazz banned fan Shane Keisel for life after his racist verbal attack on Russell Westbrook.
The issue runs deep in the history of the NBA. In an excellent piece for The Undefeated, Marc Spears dove into the long standing issue of fan conduct toward players in The Association. Several players both active and retired described their experiences with racist insults hurled at them, primarily in Utah and Boston.
Portland Trail Blazers All-Star guard Damian Lillard, who played in college at Weber State in Utah, said: “It was good that they took a strong stance right away. I don’t think it’s something you take lightly, especially if you want to put that message out there that it won’t be tolerated. … That’s not what you want in that environment, especially a sports environment, where you’re that close to players.”Lillard recalled an incident with a fan in Minneapolis who called him the N-word.“It’s always going to be around,” he said. “But if you spot it, you’ve got to do something.”
Some of the most heckled NBA players, including Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, former NBA All-Star Kenyon Martin and former NBA sharpshooter Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, said Utah’s fans were the most demeaning. Martin added that Boston was a close second to Utah. But rude and racist comments are commonplace throughout the league.nMartin said he could take the typical boos or such words as “you suck” and “you can’t shoot” but said the game changes when it becomes racist and personal.
“There were some borderline things said in Utah where they might as well have called me the N-word,” Martin said. “But if I get close to them with the same energy, they are going to play the victim. There are things said everywhere else too. I’ve heard things in Boston. Utah is the worst. Fans think they can say whatever. …
“There is no solution for some fans. Fans think they’re entitled to do whatever because they bought tickets. I’ve been booed. Told, ‘You suck.’ Told, ‘You can’t shoot.’ But you can get called ‘coon’ and asked if you want a banana and look into the stands and not know who said it.”
Abdul-Rauf said that the fans in Utah, which is majority Mormon, gave him a very tough time because of his religion and his refusal to stand for the national anthem when his teams played in Salt Lake City in the 1990s. Abdul-Rauf, who played in the NBA for nine seasons, is a devout Muslim and also African-American. The racist and demeaning words about his faith are still a painful memory for him today. Changes should have been made “a long time ago,” he said.
“Some of these fans are out of hand, and too much is going on with the treatment of blacks and minorities to allow this,” Abdul-Rauf said. “I dealt with similar stuff with people trying to attack your religion, etc. And people, in particular white folks, are sitting there smiling like it’s funny. But the minute you come back at them, you’re the wrongdoer. Black folks continue to go through racism, and to expect us to sit back and continue to say nothing is too much. If the shoe was on the other foot, it would be a totally different language.”
Abdul-Rauf nails the heart of the issue by describing the privilege at play on multiple levels. The executive director of the Players Association, Michelle Roberts, further stated it’s time for “zero tolerance”.
Flip the page for video of Russell Westbrook’s run in with racist Jazz fan Shane Keisel