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Russell Westbrook not to blame for fan altercation

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Russell Westbrook is a lightning rod for many things. You know the list. His game. His fashion. His defiance. His media interactions. His fan interactions.

But being a lightning rod doesn’t make you automatically guilty of whatever the charge, and that’s the case when Westbrook had an altercation with Utah Jazz fans Monday night.

The Thunder beat Utah 98-89, but before the game was even over, a video circulated of Westbrook, on the Thunder bench, yelling at a couple and using an expletive.

It’s not the first time. Westbrook and opposing fans have a long and turbulent. But that’s because of Westbrook’s defiance. He does not suffer fools gladly, which could be why he thinks he doesn’t like me.

Westbrook is not a believer in the theory that fans pay a premium price for their ticket and can say whatever they want. And I’m with Westbrook.

I don’t condone the use of vulgarities. Westbrook needs to cut that out, because it’s going to get him in serious trouble at some point and probably is a root of why he leads the NBA in technical fouls, with 15.

But in case you haven’t noticed, we’ve had a decline in conversational civility. Profanity is not just more common in media, but in everyday life. It’s hard enough to keep it out staff meetings, much less sporting events.

So Westbrook is not causing the downfall of propriety. He’s a symptom of it.

And I can’t criticize him for striking back at fans. Frankly, Westbrook has heard it all. He’s an 11-year pro and has been a lightning rod for most of that time. He’s been booed. He’s been hissed. He’s been mocked. Sure, sometimes Westbrook’s skin is too thin and he responds in silly ways. But that’s just inviting more catcalls.

That’s not a reason for fans to cross the line.

The Jazz fan, identified by Salt Lake City station KSL as Shane Keisel, said he told Westbrook to sit down and ice his knees, referring to the heat pads Westbrook was wearing.

Westbrook said that Keisel told Westbrook, “Get down on your knees like you’re used to.” And the Thunder’s Raymond Felton said the woman with Keisel repeated the insult.

That’s when cameras caught Westbrook saying, “I’ll **** you up. You and your wife.”

Westbrook shouldn’t have said it. It’s only going to cause him trouble. But you can understand Westbrook’s frustrations.

Fans in every arena, including Oklahoma City, feel a license to say most anything. And that’s not right.

The NBA has pioneered the closeness of the fan/player relationship, with front-row seats less than a yard from in bounds and some fans literally sitting next to players on the end of the bench.

It’s an amazing experience and incredible view, and the NBA fell into a great marketing situation. That kind of access is not available in the NFL or Major League Baseball. Only the NBA can offer that kind of up-close-and-personal experience. And fans pay incredible prices for those seats.

But no matter what you pay for your seat, it’s not carte blanche to say whatever you want. There are lines and there are limits.

Family is off limits. Racial and gender and sexual taunts are off limits.

Heck, this is nonsense. We all know what the limits are. “You suck” and “you stink”, OK. Past that, no.

“To me that’s just completely disrespectful,” Westbrook said of Keisel’s taunt. “To me, I think it’s racial. I think it’s just inappropriate in the sense of, there’s no protection for the players. I think there are a lot of great fans around the world that like to come to the game and enjoy the game. And there are people that come to the game to say mean, disrespectful things about me, my family.”

Westbrook is right in that it is completely disrespectful, and it’s lobbed in hopes of getting a response, and why should anyone be surprised when it gets just that?

In a way, Westbrook has counter-attacked. He says there’s no protection for the players, but that’s not really true. Responding, and putting individual fans on the spot and in the spotlight, changes the dynamics. It puts the Jazz organization and the city of Salt Lake itself on the hot seat.

Westbrook probably will get fined and maybe he should, but he’s always under the microscope. Always in the crosshairs.

Now the Jazz franchise and the state of Utah have to decide how to respond to a delicate manner. At least they get time and perspective before making a decision; Westbrook had a second or two, and he did what he does. Westbrook fought back.

Just like a lot of things Westbrook does, players all over the NBA are applauding him today.

Related Photos
Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook gets into a heated verbal altercation with fans in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook gets into a heated verbal altercation with fans in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-e0ecfc31098bfdc6e7b0a324e8c608c5.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook gets into a heated verbal altercation with fans in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook gets into a heated verbal altercation with fans in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook gets into a heated verbal altercation with fans in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-55c24e97aba893fb07cd0a005ccfc3cc.jpg" alt="Photo - Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) shoots as Oklahoma City Thunder's Markieff Morris (5) and Abdel Nader (11) defend in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)" title="Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) shoots as Oklahoma City Thunder's Markieff Morris (5) and Abdel Nader (11) defend in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)"><figcaption>Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) shoots as Oklahoma City Thunder's Markieff Morris (5) and Abdel Nader (11) defend in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-0769b2c04ce355ace14899c51b3a7f4e.jpg" alt="Photo - Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale, bottom, battles for the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder's Abdel Nader, right, and Markieff Morris, top, in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)" title="Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale, bottom, battles for the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder's Abdel Nader, right, and Markieff Morris, top, in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)"><figcaption>Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale, bottom, battles for the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder's Abdel Nader, right, and Markieff Morris, top, in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-3ff1104eaf66ed865001c46e5a0d47c8.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George, left, picks up the ball as Utah Jazz forward Jae Crowder, right, looks on in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George, left, picks up the ball as Utah Jazz forward Jae Crowder, right, looks on in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George, left, picks up the ball as Utah Jazz forward Jae Crowder, right, looks on in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-331c825c1847fd6ec041fb8b1627169c.jpg" alt="Photo - Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale, rear, battles for the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Abdel Nader (11) in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)" title="Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale, rear, battles for the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Abdel Nader (11) in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)"><figcaption>Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale, rear, battles for the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Abdel Nader (11) in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-f8aab11009b1baa683d4a3e41eec3fe7.jpg" alt="Photo - Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale, right, battles for the ball with Oklahoma City Thunder forward Abdel Nader (11) in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)" title="Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale, right, battles for the ball with Oklahoma City Thunder forward Abdel Nader (11) in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)"><figcaption>Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale, right, battles for the ball with Oklahoma City Thunder forward Abdel Nader (11) in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-0dac6bb444f1c7fbab71b34cbe396bc8.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) goes to the basket as Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale, left, defends in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) goes to the basket as Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale, left, defends in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) goes to the basket as Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale, left, defends in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-d6f5e6446e5a2c1c536baf44ac1c166b.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams (12) and Terrance Ferguson (23) guard Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams (12) and Terrance Ferguson (23) guard Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams (12) and Terrance Ferguson (23) guard Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-73c5893851d74c0d3c986c631bf4ae0b.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) guards against Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) guards against Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) guards against Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-2873abb6a7db53ff96943abaaa53d828.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) shoots as Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale, left, defends in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) shoots as Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale, left, defends in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) shoots as Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale, left, defends in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-5f6bf8f69ca671cc4975a7266f850c55.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jerami Grant, left, and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, right, battle for the ball in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jerami Grant, left, and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, right, battle for the ball in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jerami Grant, left, and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, right, battle for the ball in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-3e0ecc7df4962921f9b6dee144f0dfad.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) shoots as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) defends in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) shoots as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) defends in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) shoots as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) defends in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-516f4018e60d85be3491f12f3eada2e9.jpg" alt="Photo - Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) guards Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) in the second half during an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)" title="Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) guards Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) in the second half during an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)"><figcaption>Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) guards Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) in the second half during an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-810d6ab0e2f28c4bed804b47350413b9.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) celebrates after a teammate scores against the Utah Jazz in the second half during an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) celebrates after a teammate scores against the Utah Jazz in the second half during an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) celebrates after a teammate scores against the Utah Jazz in the second half during an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-466305c0c0447af016fd27636482f623.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dennis Schroder (17) shoots as Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) defends in the second half during an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dennis Schroder (17) shoots as Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) defends in the second half during an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dennis Schroder (17) shoots as Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) defends in the second half during an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c4d99aa9649b2affd8d5d9b10f153b30.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) shouts to his team in the second half during an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) shouts to his team in the second half during an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) shouts to his team in the second half during an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-b832c1a5a887146b5d1eaffde74b040f.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) waves to the crowd as he leaves the court following an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) waves to the crowd as he leaves the court following an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) waves to the crowd as he leaves the court following an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Monday, March 11, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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