OKLAHOMA CITY — Coming off a victory at Utah, where Thunder All-Star Russell Westbrook was confronted by a fan with racially-tinged insults that led to the fan receiving a lifetime ban from the Jazz and to Westbrook receiving a $25,000 fine from the NBA for his aggressive verbal response, coach Billy Donovan tried his best to put the incident in perspective.
“It was an unfortunate situation,” Donovan said before his team faced the Nets Wednesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “I give Utah credit in terms of the way they tried to handle it pretty quickly. But I think it sheds a light on some of the things these players have to deal with during the course of games. I think a lot of people come to the games as fans and want to root and cheer their team on. If anything, it brings light to something that the league along with the players and everybody can try to make better.”
After the Thunder’s 108-96 win over the Nets, Westbrook avoided talk of the incident, saying only, “I’m extremely blessed, humbled, to go out and hoop,” before steering talk to the game.
But Westbrook received an outpouring of support from players around the league who believe this incident crossed the line from normal fan heckling to remarks intended to debase him.
“It’s real, man,” said Nets veteran center Ed Davis who spent his previous five seasons in the Western Conference and has visited Salt Lake City many times. “Obviously, I don’t know what was said, but these fans in certain places can say certain things and get away with it and expect players as humans not to respond or react. That’s not right, and that’s not how it should be.
“I don’t stand for it. I don’t like it at all. Personally, I don’t disrespect or talk crazy to anybody. So, if someone says something to me, it really hits a soft spot in my body. I can’t take it.”
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said he never has encountered a similar incident in his NBA career. “I just think it’s not necessary [to make] comments like that,” Atkinson said. “I’m glad we haven’t been exposed to that. I think situations like that are outliers. Hopefully, it won’t happen again.”