Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving indicated Thursday he’s no stranger to the type of comments that led to the viral incident between Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook and a Utah Jazz fan.
“It happens so often,” Irving said after tallying a triple-double in Boston’s 126-120 comeback victory over the Sacramento Kings. “It just most of the time doesn’t get documented. I think this was the first time it actually got caught on camera, that you caught a player responding like that on camera.”
Westbrook and the Jazz fan, identified as Shane Keisel, recently made headlines for their heated exchange during the second quarter of Monday night’s game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City. According to Westbrook, Keisel told him to “get down on [his] knees like [he] used to,” prompting the 30-year-old eight-time All-Star to stand up from the bench and verbally threaten Keisel and his wife.
After the game, Westbrook — who was fined $25,000 for “directing profanity and threatening language to a fan” — issued a statement explaining his reaction.
“For me, I’m just not going to continue to take the disrespect for my family,” he said. “There’s got to be something done. There’s got to be some consequences for those type of people that come to the game just to say and do whatever they want to say. I don’t think it’s fair to the players.”
In the days following Monday’s game, several players voiced their support for Westbrook and their distaste for Keisel’s behavior. Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James said the fan clearly crossed the “bold line” between heckling the opposing team and being disrespectful, while Jazz shooting guard Donovan Mitchell issued a statement, taking a stand against hate speech. Mitchell noted the incident was “not the first time something like that has happened in [their] arena.”
Irving echoed their sentiment.
“When it’s an individual battle with a person in the crowd, and they say something violently disrespectful like that, then it’s going to warrant a reaction,” he said. “If we were out and about with our families, ain’t nobody saying no s*** like that to us. So then, it becomes a human being thing, and things escalate, and the NBA comes in and does what it’s supposed to do and protects the players.
“I don’t know who’s right or who’s wrong in that situation, but I’m just glad that everyone’s OK. When disrespectful stuff happens like that, I mean, it’s going to warrant a reaction. We all know Russ. When somebody says something crazy like that, he’s not just going crazy out of nowhere. I’m just glad he’s OK.”
In terms of his own experiences, Irving said he’s “heard it all” throughout his eight-year career. He noted Utah’s arena is particularly bothersome because “the fans are right on top of you” and stressed the importance of respecting the game as well as “people’s professions.”
“I don’t really mind the fan interaction, but not while I’m at work and you’re trying to get me to go,” he said. “Let me come to your office and yell in your ear like that.”
Jazz owner Gail Miller also addressed the incident Thursday night, requesting fans hold themselves to the “highest standard of decency.”