NBA Cracking Down On Fan Behavior, League To Institute ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’

Russell Westbrook

NBA Cracking Down On Fan Behavior, League To Institute ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’

An uptick in unruly fan behavior, in particular racist behavior, spurred the league into action.

Published October 21st

Written by Jarod Hector

The NBA is enacting a "zero tolerance" party when it comes to abusive fan behavior, according to a report from ESPN

Fans believed to have been involved in incidents will be immediately removed from their seats while officials investigate. If warranted, fans will be ejected or banned from future games. 

Several players had a conference call with NBA officials over the summer to discuss the increase in fan abuse aimed at players. 

The role race played in specific incidents was discussed, as all the high-profile fan/player incidents this past season were believed to be racist in nature. 

Russell Westbrook, then a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, got into a back and forth with a Utah Jazz fan in Salt Lake City. Westbrook alleged the fan told him to “get on your knees like you’re used to.” 

That fan was banned for life by the Utah Jazz, but it wasn’t an isolated incident as Westbrook said he was called “boy” by another Jazz fan at another game. 

There was also an incident this past January when DeMarcus Cousins, then a member of the Golden State Warriors, was called a n***er by a Celtics fan at TD Garden in Boston. Cousins reported the fan to the arena security and, according to details, the Celtics banned the fan for the remainder of last season and all of this coming season.

The most infamous incident occurred on the NBA’s biggest stage, the 2019 Finals. 

Toronto Raptors’ guard Kyle Lowry dove after a loose ball into the courtside seats, and he was shoved and repeatedly told to "go f*** yourself" by Warriors minority owner Mark Stevens

Stevens was banned for the remainder of last season, fined $500,000, and banned for the coming 2019-20 season. 

These were just the high-profile incidents. There were many others. Players are increasingly finding their work environment hostile, and the league needed to step in. 

"We've added any sexist language or LGBTQ language, any denigrating language in that way, anything that is non-basketball-related," said Jerome Pickett, the NBA's executive vice president and chief security officer. "So 'your mother' comments, talking about your family, talking about test scores, anything non-basketball-related, we've added that in as well as being something that we will go and pull a fan out of the seat and investigate what happened."

Not all incidents of fan abuse directed at players is racially motivated. Michelle Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, said she has received many complaints from white players about fans being nasty towards them. 

"Last season, I began to sense even at the games I was attending that there was a certain, I'll call it absence of civility, that permeated the games," said Roberts. "I was seeing more bad-mouthing opposing teams that were not simply 'you suck,' which every one of us will tolerate, but really nasty, nasty comments being directed at players."

There is an increasing need to look at fan behavior, not just in the NBA, but all sports leagues. Some fan behavior has crossed the line, and has been going on far too long. 

All NBA arenas now show and promote the fan code of conduct more than in the past. Season ticket holders have been warned that they could lose their seats, even if they give their tickets to someone else who goes over the line and harasses players or officials.

(Photo: Tim Warner/Getty Images)

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