I don’t really want to write this — after all, the Thunder went to Utah last night and beat a good team in a tough road environment. Much of that has been lost in the craziness surrounding Russell Westbrook’s profanity-laced interaction with a pair of Jazz fans, which is unfortunate on a basketball level. On a human level, I get it — though it’s difficult to determine what’s real and what’s fake at this point. Social media has devolved into all out war over the subject.
First things first, everyone gets an opportunity to speak their truth. Here’s an explanation of the verbal altercation from Westbrook and the fan, Shane Keisel, himself:
Given that, here’s what we know:
- Salt Lake City has a reputation among NBA players for being far less than hospitable to opposing players. It also isn’t the first time Westbrook has had trouble on the road in Utah. I mean, even Mitt Romney gave him hell in last season’s playoffs, and I don’t know if anything could be worse than that. Have you seen the guy blow out birthday candles? It’s insanity.
- Westbrook is right — he has been a model citizen throughout his career and his actions weren’t ordinary by any stretch of the imagination. It’s difficult to see him reacting in such a way unless something truly terrible was said. If he believed Keisel was being racist, that’s good enough for me. I wasn’t there and I’m no moral authority on what is/is not racist. Not from here in the privilege bubble afforded to me by choosing to be born a white male.
- Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton have confirmed Westbrook’s side of the story, and I don’t see any reason not to believe them. There’s enough smoke to assume fire.
- It wasn’t a great look for Westbrook, mostly because his response included a threat toward Mr. Keisel’s wife. I think it’s OK to fully support Russ while also wishing he hadn’t said that. He shouldn’t have.
- The fan in question did have some anti-Westbrook tweets on his page before making his profile private. However, the absolute worst tweets floating around Twitter last night were fake. He’s by no means innocent, but the Internet did make a bad situation worse.
- According to KSL 5 TV in Salt Lake City, Keisel intends to file a lawsuit against Westbrook. This probably isn’t going away soon. Get excited.
- Ultimately, it’s one man’s word against another’s. Unless there’s video of the full ordeal, incomplete facts and possibly-fake tweets are all we have to work with. There’s a lot we don’t, and won’t, know.
To be clear — I believe Westbrook and think he’s right, even if I thought he should have avoided threatening Mr. Keisel’s wife in his response. I also think it’s a bit much to tweet at Keisel’s place of employment and call for his head (like a number of Thunder fans have been doing today). I’ve been informed I need to be fired from my volunteer post at DailyThunder.com for believing such madness, but I just don’t know if that’s our place. Tweeting at the Jazz and asking them to ban him from the arena seems more appropriate, but who am I to stand in front of an angry Twitter mob? [Update: Keisel was permanently banned by the Jazz organization. See below.]
If Westbrook is to be believed (and I believe he is), Keisel has to sleep in the bed he’s made. Freedom of speech doesn’t equal freedom from consequence, and he’ll have to live with that. I presume he’ll lose his job, maybe his seats, perhaps even more. Whatever happens from this point forward is on him, deservedly so.
In any case, the real tragedy would be if nothing is learned and everything stays the same moving forward. Better boundaries (and better security) are an absolute must if the NBA wants to avoid this growing issue in the future. You can’t shut down the circus when clowns are parading around near the benches. Westbrook is correct in his assertion that something needs to be done soon.
3:50 p.m. CT update: The fan has been banned from Vivint Smart Homes Arena on a permanent basis for “excessive and derogatory verbal abuse directed at a player.”
4:20 p.m. CT update: Russell Westbrook has been fined $25,000 for ‘directing profanity and threatening language to a fan’.