Westbrook popcorn incident not isolated, leads to his calls for player safety

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As Russell Westbrook left the court and headed back to the locker room with a sprained right ankle Wednesday, a fan dumped popcorn on him. An incensed Westbrook had to be held back from going into the stands and going after the fan, who was reportedly ejected from the arena.

That is not an isolated incident since fans have returned to games this season and for the playoffs.

Bradley Beal says a fan — who was sitting next to his children — cross the line with him in that same Wednesday game. Via Chase Huges of NBC Sports Washington.

It was also not just in Philadelphia. A fan apparently tried to spit on Trae Young at Madison Square Garden (Young laughed it off pointing out 50 cent was courtside).

Fans in Denver reportedly crossed the line with Carmelo Anthony during these playoffs.

All those are just the reported cases from the last few days, there certainly are more since fans have returned to games. In recent years, players have talked quietly — pre-pandemic at least — about a rise in fans willing to cross the line in personal verbal attacks on them and family at games. Westbrook had another such incident in Utah.

Most are not as dramatic as popcorn raining down on a player, and players have said to NBC Sports and other outlets in the past they almost always ignore the situation knowing that if they tried to make it into a confrontation — even if they were in the right — there would be a financial and public relations price to pay.

Westbrook, speaking to the media via Zoom, touched on this after the game.

“To be completely honest, man, this s*** is getting out of hand, especially for me. The amount of disrespect, the amount of fans just doing whatever the f*** they want to do, it’s [wrong]. Any other setting, I’m all for the fans enjoying the game and having fun. It’s part of sports, I get it. But there are certain things that cross the line. Any other setting, I know for a fact they wouldn’t come up, a guy wouldn’t come up on the street and pour popcorn on my head because they know what would happen. A guy wouldn’t come up to me talking about my family and my kids on the street because the response would be different,” Westbrook said.

“The arenas have gotta start protecting the players. We’ll see what the NBA does, but there’s a huge problem for us as players, and for me, where fans they say whatever and the consequences for me are a lot more [detrimental] for me than the fans in the stands because they’re untouchable. They can say what they want at a sporting event and they enjoy the game. But what a lot of fans don’t realize is this is my job. I don’t just play, this is something I love to do, it’s something I compete at. So, to get food thrown on top of me, it’s just bulls***, really.”

Westbrook wasn’t the only player frustrated with the popcorn incident.

While the NBA had pushed arenas to step up security and enforcement of fan-related issues pre-pandemic, it seems the challenges have returned with some of the crowds. Considering the intensity that comes with the playoffs, let’s hope that things do not escalate.

The NBA released a statement saying they would step up enforcement of the fan code of conduct following these incidents.

Good. Westbrook is right. Fans have a right to cheer and jeer, but there are lines of civility that cannot be crossed. This is just a basketball game.