Zach’s Twitter: @ZachSelwyn1
When an Aquafina water bottle hurled from the stands nearly collided with Kyrie Irving at the conclusion of Sunday night’s Nets-Celtics game, it quite possibly defined the most negatively aggressive fan week in recent NBA history. The unfortunate interactions began when some moronic Knicks fan at Madison Square Garden spit on Atlanta’s Trae Young’s back during a game. That same night, a fan in Philly dumped popcorn on Russell Westbrook. And then a day later, Ja Morant called out some Utah Jazz fans for making racist comments and taunts towards the young superstar. It even happened last night when some jackass ran on the court in the middle of the Wizards-Sixers game to slap the backboard. Congratulations, moron. You’ll never be in an arena again.
What the hell is going on right now in NBA arenas?
The Ugly Reality of Post-Pandemic Sports Fans
Fan interaction has always been one of the more enjoyable parts of going to a live sporting event. In good spirits, hecklers, bleacher creatures, and amateur ballpark comedians hurl occasionally funny insults and good old-fashioned jabs at star players from other teams. And, on occasion when a player is in a terrible slump, even players from their own teams come under fire… Nobody is safe. But what has transpired in the NBA over the playoffs this past week is simply disgusting and outrageous. With arrests, racist accusations, and “concession assaults,” some NBA players have been comparing their recent experiences to feel like they were “playing in a zoo.”
Players are People Too
Jazz center Rudy Gobert told ESPN in 2019 that, “People pay money to watch us and feel like they can touch us or do whatever they want. Because we make millions, we’re just expected to shut up and take it. But they can’t do whatever they want.”
Seems like some fans missed the memo. The guy who threw the water bottle at Kyrie is a 21-year-old Boston Celtics fan. In modern nomenclature, we would describe this guy as a typical “MASShole” – based on his green Kevin Garnett Celtics jersey, his smug look of “what’d I do wrong?,” and his stereotypical upset fan response to his team getting blown out by Irving, their former point guard.
Don’t know what a “MASShole” is? Go rewatch Good Will Hunting.
Still, the fact that this fan – who probably only knows Kyrie Irving as simply a former Celtics player and not an NBA champion, movie star, and human rights advocate – has brought the sports world to its feet in recognizing that this barrage has simply got to stop. (For the record, the Celtics fan was charged with “Assault and Battery with a Dangerous Weapon” and given a lifetime ban from the arena.) Do I agree that a water bottle is a deadly weapon? Not necessarily, but the league has to make a statement somewhere to protect their players…
Adjusting to Life Post-Pandemic
Look, we are all coming out of this pandemic together. Live sporting events, like a regular daily life, have only recently come back. In some cities, arenas are packing in 20 thousand fans. Most of whom seem to have forgotten how to behave amongst elite athletes and opposing teams. Humans have been cooped up for so long that, to post-pandemic sports fans, a crowded arena probably seems like the only place they can take out their concerns and frustrations. Unfortunately, it’s not only being taken out on players.
A recent viral video posted by Instagram account @crimefaces showed a Dodgers fan mercilessly beating the crap out of an Astros fan at a stadium. Only one guy jumped in to stop the melee, as most folks just sat there and filmed it on their iPhones, knowing that content is king and leaving these two morons to settle their disputes in the bleachers. It brought horrific memories of San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow, who was assaulted leaving Chavez Ravine about 9 years ago and suffered permanent brain and physical damage. When that case was settled and two Dodgers fans went to prison for 8 years, I thought the senseless violence in stadiums was over. Apparently, not.
The Long History of Misbehaved Fans
Remember the “Malice at the Palace?” Of course you do. Everybody does. The fan who threw the water bottle at Ron Artest sparked the most legendary and ugliest brawl in NBA history, resulting in suspensions and fines beyond what the league had ever issued before. But the players were punished for going into the stands more than the actual fans, who sparked the incident and even included one man, Charlie Haddad, who had previously mentioned that he wanted to “fight an NBA player so that he could receive compensation.” Nowadays, post-pandemic sports fans are going after players to rile them up and to vent their anger that a guy like Trae Young just cooked them for 37 points. Fortunately, it’s resulting in arrests and lifelong bans.
Players have feelings. They are human beings. Athletes, as highly paid as they are, will hear everything spouted at them from the sidelines. Westbrook has been hearing it for years. So have LeBron, KD, and every other superstar on the court. The greatest athletes don’t let the chatter affect their demeanor or their game. Others take revenge. Others live and play in fear.
The Players Fight Back
Following this past week’s events, I looked back at some of the more memorable fan-player interactions of the past 40 years. If you have some time, get on YouTube and watch just how dangerous an arena can become if the stars on the floor go after the spectators in the stands:
Texas Rangers pitcher Frank Francisco tossed a folding chair at an opposing fan in Oakland in 2004.
Marcus Smart shoved a Texas Tech fan in 2014.
The 1979 Boston Bruins team took out an entire row of New York Rangers fans in 1979. (One guy gets beat with his own shoe in this classic.)
And finally: Vernon Maxwell punched out a Trail Blazers fan in 1995 after the fan heckled him for his wife having recently suffered a miscarriage.
Who’s at Fault Here?
All of these events are shocking and unfortunate. But for years the media tended to blame the players for “losing their cool,” while barely acknowledging the fans’ actions. In reality, the fans are mostly more to blame than the players, who are doing their best to win games and stay focused in a gladiator-like environment that could erupt at any moment like a powder-keg. For some reason, like Gobert stated a couple of years ago, fans seem to think that since these guys are so well-compensated that it is open season on their physical being, personal lives, and feelings.
Hopefully, as the playoffs roll on and fans start seeing what their actions could possibly result in. Players will start to feel safe again. And we can enjoy the last month of the NBA season peacefully. Nearly every announcer from Charles Barkley to Dave Pasch has said, “It feels so much better with the fans back.” Sure, but recently, fans are proving that perhaps they weren’t ready to even BE back in NBA arenas…
Look, I once saw a Little League dad attack his own kid’s coach during a 3rd grade playoff game. So I know how passionate sports fans can be. This time, as we are all getting out heads above water in a post-pandemic world, let’s do our best to let the players do their thing and act like civilized sports fans. Don’t shout out ignorant diatribes, don’t spit on players and don’t throw stuff at opposing teams.
In short? Don’t be a MASShole.