Beyond the Scoreboard: A Thin Line Between Heckling and Incivility


The relationship with fans and athletes continues to be tumultuous. (Courtesy of Flickr)

By Andrew Posadas

Over the weekend, I decided to attend the New York Catholic High School Athletic Association Basketball Playoff final between Archbishop Stepinac and Christ the King. Christ the King’s center Moussa Cisse is projected to be a top-10 recruit in ESPN’s Class of 2021 rankings. The tallest player on the court at all times, it became evident early his height would be the subject of heckling for Stepinac fans.

Sitting right by Stepinac’s bench, certain fans made it their mission to ridicule Cisse throughout. After a missed free throw from Cisse, a young Stepinac fan proceeded to shout, “He can’t f—— shoot. Keep taking it to his b—– a– all day!”

In any sporting event, there is always that one fan. The person whose pestering gets progressively more personal throughout a game. Someone who begins by taking shots at your game and the way you play.

All of a sudden, they start criticizing your character while superfluously bringing up your loved ones like family and friends to psych you out.

So what happens when harmless taunting turns into flat-out disrespect? Why do fans believe paying for a game ticket suddenly grants them full immunity to say anything? More importantly: how are athletes supposed to react under the circumstances?

On Monday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Utah Jazz on the road, 98-89. A huge win in March as teams continue battling for playoff position in the Western Conference. All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook was efficient in the win, messing around and almost getting himself a triple-double.

Unfortunately, Westbrook’s statistical performance in a win wasn’t the major story. Early in the second quarter, the 30-year-old former NBA MVP found himself in a verbal altercation with a Jazz fan and his wife. A reporter with The Deseret News recorded part of the altercation which shows Westbrook clearly distraught.

In the video, Westbrook makes one thing abundantly clear to security in regards to the heckling fan, saying, “I’ll f— him up.”

Westbrook is heard repeatedly yelling the phrases “I promise you” and “I swear to God” afterwards to reinforce his position. Then, he makes his biggest threat when he looks towards the fans’ direction and boldly states, “You and your wife. I’ll f— you up.”

In the locker room postgame, the Oklahoma City guard explained to reporters what the fan said that ultimately set him off. Allegedly, Westbrook was told by the fan while icing his knees on the bench to “get down on my knees like you used to.”

This same comment was then repeated by the fan’s wife. For Westbrook, the comment had a racial undertone to it, which ignited his profanity-laced response on video. He believes there is no protection for the NBA players from certain fans who only come to “say disrespectful things about me, my family.”

The Utah Jazz released a statement after the game in which they said an investigation will be done on the situation. Utah also added that “multiple warning cards” were given out to fans by area security.

One of those warning cards were issued to the fan in question, Shane Keisel.

Keisel explained his side of the story to local Utah station KSL 5 TV. Keisel believes he and Westbrook were “just having fun to be honest,” stating Westbrook was even smiling at one point. However, Keisel is adamant he and his wife said no curse words toward Westbrook. He did describe Westbrook’s action as “classless.”

What Keisel forgot to consider was the effect his altercation with Westbrook would have on social media. The following morning, multiple old tweets from Keisel’s past were showcased on Twitter. On April 28th of last year, Keisel sent out a tweet (now deleted) in which he wrote, “Westbrook is a piece of classless s—. somebody needs to kick his a–.”

This obviously does not sound like a man who was just there to watch the game with his wife. The only thing on his side in this altercation is that there is no video on what exactly he said to Westbrook. Luckily, social media has helped us paint a picture of a man who has clearly attacked the All-Star before and came into Monday’s game looking to do so again.

As a result of the altercation, Westbrook has been fined $25,000 dollars for “directing profanity and threatening language to a fan.”

Do not believe that Westbrook’s fine absolves Keisel from culpability in the altercation and gives him a happy ending. After its investigation, The Utah Jazz announced Tuesday they have banned Keisel from attending games for the rest of his life.

Disrespect should never be tolerated by an athlete. Fans feel a false entitlement after purchasing an expensive NBA game ticket, as if it is a golden ticket to say and do whatever you want. Do not get it twisted: no heckler wants any real smoke from a basketball player.

Sooner or later, something such as “the Malice at the Palace” may happen again. Research it on YouTube. Then, tell me if you want to go to an NBA game and blatantly disrespect a player.