AFP/ Los Angeles
Three NBA teams said yesterday they had banned fans from their arenas for inappropriate behaviour — including a Philadelphia 76ers fan who dumped popcorn on Washington star Russell Westbrook. The Sixers said the fan was banned indefinitely from the Wells Fargo Center and had his season ticket revoked.
The unnamed spectator had triggered uproar on Wednesday after showering injured Westbrook with popcorn as he left the court during game two of the Wizards’ Eastern Conference playoff series against the Sixers.
The New York Knicks also confirmed they had banned a fan who spat at Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young. And the Utah Jazz said they had banned three fans for comments directed at members of Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant’s family during the teams’ game on Wednesday.
“To see Trae Young spit on, to hear about Ja’s family, that doesn’t represent our league,” said Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James on Thursday night. “Kudos to the league, the Knicks, the Jazz, and Philly. We are going to move forward.”
James added that he understands that booing, and the odd catcall, comes with being a professional athlete in a hostile visiting arena, but said some fans take it too far. “This isn’t part of cheering for your team,” he said. “We understand the boos. But there is a line. We all know what the line is and when you cross it.”
An angry Westbrook had to be restrained by security staff from confronting the fan who showered him with popcorn. A Sixers statement said the fan had been identified and barred from games.
“We have determined that the person involved will have his season ticket membership revoked, effectively immediately,” the team said. “In addition, he will be banned from all events at Wells Fargo Center indefinitely. We apologise to Russell Westbrook and the Washington Wizards for being subjected to this type of unacceptable and disrespectful behaviour. There is no place for it in our sport or arena.”
A furious Westbrook on Wednesday called on the NBA and venue managers to crack down on unruly fans, saying the problem was “getting out of hand.” “The amount of disrespect, the amount of fans just doing whatever they want to do — it’s just out of pocket,” Westbrook said.
“There are certain things that cross the line. Any other setting... a guy were to come up on the street and pour popcorn on my head, you know what happens. In these arenas, you got to start protecting the players. We’ll see what the NBA does,” added Westbrook, who has been targeted repeatedly for abuse by fans in recent years.
The NBA said in a statement the league would implement an “enhanced fan code of conduct” following the incident. “The return of more NBA fans to our arenas has brought great excitement and energy to the start of the playoffs,” the league said.
“But it is critical that we all show respect for players, officials and our fellow fans. An enhanced fan code of conduct will be vigorously enforced in order to ensure a safe and respectful environment for all involved.”
The NBA promise of a clampdown came as the Knicks confirmed they had banned the fan who spat on Young during a Wednesday playoff game at Madison Square Garden. “We investigated the matter and determined that this patron, who is not a season ticket holder, did indeed spit on Trae Young, and for that reason, he is now banned from The Garden indefinitely,” the Knicks said in a statement.
“We apologise to Trae and the entire Atlanta Hawks organization for this fan’s behaviour. This was completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated in our venue.”
The Knicks said they had turned their investigation over to the appropriate authorities. The Jazz acted after Morant’s father, Tee Morant, said fans directed lewd and racist comments to him and his wife, Jamie, during the Grizzlies’ loss in Utah on Wednesday.
The team said arena security staff intervened, and that after an investigation three fans were removed and banned indefinitely. “The Utah Jazz have zero tolerance for offensive or disruptive behaviour,” the team said in a statement. “We apologise to all who were impacted by this unfortunate incident and condemn unacceptable fan behaviour. The Utah Jazz are committed to ensuring a safe and respectful environment.”
Ja Morant welcomed the decision in a tweet, and also noted that his family told him they “felt the love from all the other Jazz fans” apart from the three who “went too far.”
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