By now, the verbal cage match between Oklahoma City Thunder basketball player Russell Westbrook and Utah Jazz fan Shane Keisel has been hashed and re-hashed to the point where there’s probably not much else left to say.
Other than, “Good work, everyone.”
Because I must confess: With the possible exception of Keisel and Westbrook, everyone involved in this hot mess handled it about as well as could be expected.
The Utah Jazz hit Keisel with a lifetime ban from Vivint Smart Home Arena, where the team plays its home games, for what it called “excessive and derogatory verbal abuse directed at a player.” And the NBA fined Westbrook $25,000 for “directing profanity and threatening language to a fan.”
Both of those punishments sound about right.
What’s more, it’s been reported that the Jazz are looking into other similar incidents in the past, and that they have already handed down a second lifetime ban to another fan who repeatedly called Westbrook the racially charged term “boy” during last year’s playoffs.
Good for them. One can only hope the word gets around that paying a premium for seats close enough to have a conversation with the players doesn’t give you the right to be verbally abusive.
To his credit, since the initial hot-headed response to Keisel, Westbrook has refused to engage on the subject. By contrast, Keisel doesn’t seem to know when to cut his losses and walk away. According to media reports, Keisel plans on suing Westbrook.
Wait. What? You’re hiring a lawyer and filing a lawsuit against someone simply because the two of you traded insults? I believe that tells the rest of us all we need to know about this particular Jazz snowflake.
If there’s a silver lining to the Westbrook-Keisel dust-up, it’s that the NBA is attempting to use the incident to educate fans. The league is asking teams to create public service announcements that stress the “importance of respect and civility in NBA arenas.”
Which is all well and good, but the one PSA I’d love to see will probably never happen. It involves Westbrook and Keisel sitting down together for a frank, heartfelt conversation. I like to imagine it would go something like this …
SHANE KEISEL: I want to apologize to you, Mr. Westbrook. In the heat of the moment I said a lot of hateful things that I regret, and I’ve brought shame and embarrassment on both my family and my team. I also apologize to you personally — as well as all other athletes of color — for any racist things I may have said. There is no excuse for my terrible behavior.
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: I accept your apology, Mr. Keisel. And I also apologize for what I said to you and your wife. Provoked or not, it was unacceptable.
SK: Thank you for that, but you have no reason to apologize, Mr. Westbrook. This one’s on me — and on all the other fans out there who take their love of team just a little too far. I’m sorry for my unsportsmanlike behavior, and I pledge to do better in the future.
RW: I appreciate that. And I fully admit that I’m a highly competitive athlete, so I’ll try not to let my passion for the game get the best of me going forward.
I envision the PSA ending with the two men standing and shaking hands, then walking off the set in opposite directions before Westbrook turns back with one final thought.
“Oh, yeah. Sorry you got a lifetime ban at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City,” Westbrook says, tossing Keisel an OKC Thunder jersey with the number “0” and “Westbrook” on the back. “But you’re still always welcome at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.”
“Thanks,” Keisel says with a smile, handing the jersey back to Westbrook. “But I think I’d rather just watch the Jazz on TV.”
PSA fades to black, with a catchy tagline, something like, “The NBA: Let’s All Play Nice.”
Now, before we conclude, there is one final point that should at least be mentioned, because a lot is being made of the racial component to what was allegedly said to Westbrook. Keisel may very well be a raging racist, and whatever vile thing he said that night may have indeed been hurled as a racial insult. Which is some serious stuff, no doubt.
But it’s a distinction worth noting that Keisel didn't go after Westbrook because he's black. He went after him because Westbrook plays for the wrong team, of all things. Which is only slightly less repulsive than hating people for their race — hating them simply because they don't happen to compete for your local sports team.
In the end, this was very much about color.
The color of a stupid jersey.