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The NBA Needs to Stand Behind Russell Westbrook After Incident with Utah Fan

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

A couple months ago I wrote an article on what I like to call “abusive fan culture”, where sports supporters, who have emotional attachments to a team or player, believe they have the right to say whatever they want just because they spend money to buy a ticket. I called for fans to hold each other accountable, and to act like adults instead of children at events and on social media.

Last night in Utah, the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Jazz 98-89. Polarizing NBA star Russell Westbrook, the former MVP known for his aggressive nature on and off the court, was caught on video yelling at a Jazz fan that was sitting a few rows away from the Thunder bench. Westbrook is heard saying, “I will f*** you up. You and your wife, I’ll f*** you up”.

Naturally, with zero video of what the fan said, this was a bad look for Russ, especially with his threat towards the fan’s wife. Thousands took to Twitter, calling for Westbrook to be punished, fined, and suspended by the NBA. However, within a couple of hours, more information about what the fan had said started to surface, from Thunder player testimonies to fan witnesses and even assumptions based on the tweets of the man who Westbrook threatened.

Following the game, Westbrook shared his account of what he heard with members of the media.

OKC guard Raymond Felton shared what he heard, calling for fans to understand that professional athletes are humans too, and can get emotional at verbal abuse just like everyone else. He also confirmed what Russ heard, saying that the fan said “Get down on you knees like you’re used to”, which was also said by the man’s wife.

Patrick Patterson, another one of Westbrook’s teammates, who was sitting right next to him during the altercation, tweeted this out later in the evening.

Reporters managed to grab the fan, named Shane Keisel, for an interview in the stands after the game. Keisel claimed that he never used profanity and was just having fun with Westbrook, who suddenly had an outburst against him and his wife, who he claims was sitting down and not involved at all. Keisel also told reporters that he said “Just sit down and ice your knees, bro”.

Keisel has since been called out by many fans, including one who allegedly was sitting just a couple rows behind him, claiming that Keisel was yelling profanity directed at Westbrook, including some potential racist language.

After publicly appearing on an interview and giving out his full name, it didn’t take long for people to track down Shane Keisel on twitter, finding some old tweets from months ago, suggesting that Keisel isn’t the saint he is trying to make himself out to be. These tweets were quickly deleted, but not before multiple screenshots were taken.

The NBA has everything they need to make a clear assessment of the situation; multiple players have spoken out against the fan, all confirming what was actually said. Another fan sitting behind Keisel has shared what he heard and, on top of it all, abusive and racist tweets were found from months ago about Westbrook on the fan’s account.

This isn’t rocket science. Westbrook was in the wrong for his comment about the man’s wife. But that’s it. Other than that, this man, his wife, and all fans that think they can speak to players in such a way are the real issue. The NBA has an opportunity to send a clear message here by standing behind Westbrook and making an example of Mr. Keisel. He should be banned from NBA arenas and it should be made clear that such is the punishment for any racial or verbal abuse.

Do the right thing NBA. Protect your player.