Jazz fans found themselves in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons earlier this week when Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook got into a heated verbal confrontation with an unruly Utah supporter during Monday’s game at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
Unfortunately, it’s not the first time fan behavior has been an issue in Salt Lake City — or even with Westbrook, who admittedly isn’t the easiest person to like unless you root for the Thunder. But Shane Keisel apparently took it several steps too far. Not did he choose not to conduct himself like a mature adult when spewing his offensive invective at Westbrook, but he wasn’t mature enough to own up to it and instead came up with some half-baked explanation when speaking to a reporter after the fact before the Jazz discovered he wasn’t being completely truthful. The result? Keisel, whose since-deleted Twitter account was filled with racist vitriol directed at Westbrook, has been banned from all Vivint Arena events for life.
Now, this isn’t a problem unique to Utah. Our neighbors to the east have their own issues. A video I saw on social media portraying poor fan behavior included four incidents (two involving Westbrook!) that took place at Denver’s Pepsi Center. But in the past few years, Utah fans have gained an unfortunate reputation across the NBA. Even Jazz players, including Donovan Mitchell, Thabo Sefolosha and Rudy Gobert, have expressed their dismay at the damage Keisel and other fans like him have done to Salt Lake City’s image.
Even though I’m not a Jazz fan (I grew up in Moab, but my family is originally from Colorado), as someone who grew up in the Beehive State, it pains me, too. We aren’t all bad, but, unfortunately, some of us like to act that way.
I’m not saying Jazz fans need to go to the other extreme. Vivint Arena has a well-earned reputation as one of the toughest places for visiting NBA teams because of its ear-splitting noise level. Booing and even a little good-natured heckling are to be expected. I don’t think fans need to become ultra-polite and sit on their hands or anything like that. Go and be obnoxious and rowdy. That’s what home-court advantage is all about.
However, there are lines that can’t be crossed. Just because you paid several hundred dollars a seat to be up close and personal with the stars of the NBA doesn’t mean you paid for the right to be a jerk. It’s also annoying as a fellow fan to be sitting near someone who acts like that. And, as Mitchell mentioned, it paints a bad picture of Utah when it comes time to try to get free agents to come here, no matter how good the team is.
So, what can the rest of us do? It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of the Jazz or of the opposing team. Don’t let Keisel and others of his ilk be the prevailing image of Utahns as basketball fans.
Be loud. Root your team on to victory, even if it means booing your opponent. And if you don’t particularly like Russell Westbrook, James Harden or whoever the other team’s best player is, you can even talk a little trash if you want — after all, heckling is a time-honored tradition when done right.
But don’t cross the line that Keisel did. As Utahns, we should expect better from ourselves and our fellow fans.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He remembers when they used to put the decibel meter on TV during Jazz home games in the Stockton/Malone era. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.