This has probably been the most challenging season of Russell Westbrook’s 14-year career in the NBA. Teaming up with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Lakers has proven to be an experiment not worth repeating next season.
All of Westbrook’s shortcomings on the court have been magnified by playing in Los Angeles, and it’s affected him on and off the court. Fans and media have been relentless with the criticism of Russ’ game. Now we’ve gotten to the point where fans feel comfortable enough to approach him on the street and criticize Westbrook to his face.
The arrogance and entitlement of fans seem to worsen every year in the NBA. Within the last couple of years, we’ve seen Westbrook and other players involved in some of the most disrespectful incidents in arenas around the league. A fan dumped popcorn on Westbrook during a first-round playoff game last season in Philadelphia when he played for the Washington Wizards. Another incident during last year’s playoffs involved a Knicks fan spitting on Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young.
Heckling is one thing and most people have no issue with this, including players. But when fans start throwing things and spitting at players now, they aren’t just crossing a line, but they’re two-stepping all over it. It certainly isn’t a majority of fans acting wild, but even one incident like any of these is too much.
Now we’ve got this guy recording himself trashing Westbrook, going back and forth with him on the street. I’m not sure if this guy would have done the same with no buffer between himself and Russ, but you never know. Some people are just looking for their “viral moment,” and that’s all they care about.
The NBA has done a good job of ejecting/banning fans who get too close to players in arenas, but there isn’t much they can do in a situation like the situation Westbrook was part of in Toronto. The guy is anonymous aside from his voice. All they exchanged were words, but those brief altercations can quickly escalate. Luckily Russ was able to walk away before things got out of control.
Love for your team is one thing, but sometimes that can even be too much. You never want to see something like this because with the wrong player, on the wrong day, we could be talking about a far more serious encounter than what happened in the video in Toronto. It feels like some of these fans are just trying to bait one of these pro athletes into assaulting them because they know a payday would be coming their way afterward.
I know the NBA is centered around the fan experience and fans being on the floor during games, but at some point, the league might really need to consider moving the first row back a little bit. Fans fighting players won’t get the league anywhere. We saw that with the Malice at the Palace, and it didn’t end well for anyone involved. In November, LeBron had two fans booted in Indiana for something they’d said to him that he felt went too far.
Buying a ticket doesn’t mean you get to say and do anything you want at games. Where outside confrontations are concerned, I just hope players continue to be smart about it and not make any rash decisions that cost them in the long run. Something has to give before something terrible happens to a fan or player.