Russell Westbrook confronting a Utah heckler last season has had major ramifications.
Westbrook got fined. The Jazz banned the fan, Shane Keisel. The NBA introduced more stringent policy on abusive or hateful fans.
And, as he promised, Keisel is suing.
Benjamin Wood and Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune:
A man who received a lifetime ban from Vivint Smart Home Arena in March is suing the Utah Jazz and the Houston Rockets’ Russell Westbrook, claiming he was wrongly accused of shouting racist and derogatory remarks at the professional basketball player. In a lawsuit filed Monday in 4th District Court, attorneys for Shane Keisel argue that Keisel engaged only in typical crowd behavior when he and his girlfriend Jennifer Huff were subjected to a “tirade” from an “irate” Westbrook, who was then playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Keisel and Huff want a public apology and significant financial damages, according to the suit. The attorneys are seeking $68 million in damages for Keisel and $32 million for Huff on claims of defamation and infliction of emotional distress.
The lawsuit states that because of the claims against him, Keisel and members of his family were harassed, and that he had to alter his driving routes, stop using his first name and install new locks and security cameras at his home.
He lost his jobs at Brent Brown Toyota and Skywest Airlines after the incident with Westbrook became major news.
A couple important distinctions:
The Jazz banned Keisel for “excessive and derogatory verbal abuse directed at a player during the game that violated the NBA Code of Conduct.” Gail Miller owns both the Jazz and the arena. The Jazz have leeway to determine who enters their building.
Westbrook, the with the Thunder, said Keisel told him to “get down on my knees like you used to.” Keisel said he told Westbrook to ice his knees because he’d need it. Either is at least plausible. Based on his hearing of the heckle, Westbrook said, “I think it’s racial.” Westbrook has a right to his opinion.
Did the Jazz, after years of being soft on racist fan behavior, come down too hard on Keisel to make an example of him? Maybe. Have people reacted too harshly too Keisel based on a disputed set of facts? Maybe.
But it’s hard to see how that that will lead to Westbrook and the Jazz being found liable