Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller delivered a powerful message to her team’s fans Thursday after a verbal altercation earlier in the week between a spectator at Vivint Smart Home Arena and Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook described the fan’s remarks as racially denigrating and “completely disrespectful.” He told reporters he heard the fan, who has since been banned from events at the Jazz’s home venue, say, “get down on [your] knees like you used to.”
Miller read prepared remarks from center court before Utah’s game against Minnesota, chastising the individual, whom she called a “quote, ‘fan,’ ” and reminding others the arena’s personal conduct policy would be strictly enforced.
"This should never happen. We are not a racist community. We believe in treating people with courtesy and respect as human beings. From time to time, individual fans exhibit poor behavior and forget their manners. Some disrespect players on other teams. When that happens, I want to jump up and shout, ‘Stop!’ We have a code of conduct in this arena. It will be strictly enforced.
“Everyone who comes here, visiting teams included, deserves the right and the expectation to be treated with dignity at all times. When bad incidents like Monday night happen, it not only affects the player it’s directed at; it also affects our players. Other teams are not our enemies. They are our competition. Competition is a good thing. It allows players to showcase their talents, and it allows fans to encourage, appreciate, cheer for and enjoy those who share those talents with us.”
The Jazz banned another fan Friday for a separate incident involving Westbrook that took place during the first round of the 2018 playoffs, according to the Deseret News. While Westbrook danced by the bench during warmups, a man shouted at him, “Here we go, boy.”
“Don’t call me boy,” Westbrook replied. “Don’t call me boy. Stop.”
The man shouted, “Here we go, boy,” again, and Westbrook replied, “That’s disrespectful,” and called for arena personnel to intervene.
“I don’t confront fans; fans confront me,” Westbrook said during the playoff series. “Here in Utah, man, a lot of disrespectful, vulgar things are said to the players here with these fans. It’s truly disrespectful. [They] talk about your families, your kids. It’s just a disrespect to the game, and I think it’s something that needs to be brought up.
“I’m tired of just going out and playing and letting fans say what the hell they want to say. I’m not with that. If I was on the street, they wouldn’t just come up to me and say anything crazy, because I don’t play that s---.”
Members of the Jazz have reacted strongly this week to the incidents. General Manager Dennis Lindsey called Sam Presti, his counterpart in Oklahoma City, to apologize to the organization. Utah guard Donovan Mitchell said the incident was “not indicative of our fan base.”
“As a black man living in a community I love, and playing on a team that gives me the opportunity to live out my dreams, this incident hits close to home,” Mitchell said (via the Associated Press). “Racism and hate speech hurts us all, and this is not the first time something like this has happened in our arena. The Utah that I have come to love is welcoming and inclusive.”
Miller used the end of her Thursday remarks to encourage fans to respect players who “have chosen to be a part of our community, and they make us richer with our diversity."
“Use your energy cheering our team with your honest, sincere enthusiasm, rather than degrading or demeaning players on the opposing team,” she said. “No one wins when respect goes away.”
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