Players have privately sounded the warning bell for years: As the volume of hateful speech has risen in society at large in recent years, players have said they have heard more abusive comments from fans. Not heckling about the game but personal, racist comments.
How big a problem this really is has been a topic of debate. A year ago when I asked league officials about it, I got a response that said the real bad apple fans were removed more than other fans/the media realized and this was not really a big issue.
Draymond Green disagrees, saying after practice on Friday it happens “Often. A lot. It’s crazy.” Green also went in on the people doing it, and got in a dig at the league.
“I guess it’s just the nature of what we do,” the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year told reporters in Houston. “I don’t really understand why grown men get off by coming in to someone else’s job and saying bulls–t. I guess that’s their way of letting out their frustration in their life.
“Kinda stupid to me…
“If I’m someone who’s probably not as happy with my life … I know if I say something crazy, whatever they say back and they lose money — misery loves company,” he explained. “The longer our penalties are raised and blasted to the world, people will keep doing that.
“At the end of the day, what do they really lose? Our families lose money that we provide. As long as the league continues to fine players for saying something back when they’re getting completely disrespected, it’s gonna always happen.”
Westbrook was fined $25,000 by the league for his comments back to the Jazz fans, although he came back hard and crossed a line himself. Then again, if he hadn’t would the fan have gotten any more than a warning card from security? Probably not. And the issue would still be buried.
The NBA and teams sell access to players for those who can afford to pay — that’s part of the draw of courtside seats. Pay enough and you can hear what the players say, and they will be within earshot of what you say. But if the NBA is going to profit from that access it must give the players some protection, too. Green is far from the only player who thinks the league and teams have fallen short on that front.
We will see if the spotlight of the Westbrook incident changes things.