After finally snapping a five-game losing streak in Chicago against the Bulls Tuesday night, LeBron James was asked about the day’s most-talked about topic in NBA coverage: The Utah Jazz fan who said (and tweeted) a bunch of racist stuff about Russell Westbrook, lied about it on TV and then was eventually permanently banned from the arena of the team he roots for.
We also have to mention that Westbrook was fined for his role in the verbal altercation.
James got into how he views Westbrook as a person, as well as making it clear he wanted to make sure he had gathered all the information he could before he commented — an altogether smart decision by James.
Here is what he said (via Spectrum SportsNet):
“I did not see it when it happened. Obviously I heard about it today. I wanted to get all the information before I even commented on it. I think that situation, the fan was out of line and what he said to Russ, there comes a point where it’s about respect, and the only thing we’ve got in life is respect, at the end of the day.”
One thing James has been consistently adamant about in his dealings with others is how much he values respect as an adult, a parent and as a human being. He continued with that theme:
“We can play basketball, we can report about the game, you guys can cover the game, but at the end of the day as a man, all you guys show respect. That guy crossed a line. It was funny that he tried to backtrack and say what he didn’t do, I’ve never seen a fan get interviewed like that before…. And as bad as social media is, the good thing in social media came out when they went through everything he said about Russ, and said about other people in his little timeline.
“Obviously Russ is a very passionate guy, but Russ is married with three kids. A set of twins. And no matter if you like him or love him, or the way he plays the game, the guy is one of the most loyal people I know, one of the most down to earth guys that I know and that guy just took it too far on the other end.”
Once again, in complete fairness, multiple people launched fake accounts with the racist Jazz fan’s likeness, which doesn’t do anyone any good, but those previous posts on social media helped fill in the gaps while we waited for the results of the Jazz’s investigation.
Finally, James spoke about the balance fans have to find between trash talk and offensive statements toward the athletes they paid to watch:
“They could have missed some words, Russ could have said it a little bit differently, but at the end of the day he was right and the guy was in the wrong… I salute the Utah Jazz in what their organization did and we move forward. But fans understand that they pay hard-earned money to watch our beautiful game and watch our beautiful players and I respect that, but there’s a fine line when you got to the disrespectful side.
“Am I cheering my team on? Am I heckling the opposing guy? Or am I crossing a line? And there’s a fine line, well there’s not a fine line, that line is very bold. Everyone knows that when you’re crossing that line. So there it is.”
Here’s a general rule that I think is a decent one to follow when yelling stuff at games: If you saw the athletes you’re paying to watch in public, would you say to him in that moment with no one around what you want to yell at him during the game? Would you say it in front of your grandmother? If not, maybe don’t scream it at them during games, either.
It was good to hear James catch himself in saying it’s a fine line between friendly trash-talking or booing and vulgarity. It really isn’t. If what you’re saying would get your ass kicked in another setting, it probably isn’t something you should be saying at games, either.
This idea that somehow because you paid for the tickets, that gives you the freedom to fire off all the frustrations you have with your own life is an antiquated one that we really need to move off from.
Technically speaking, I paid for my oil change, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to scream obscenities while my mechanic is under the hood. Yes, I paid for entertainment at a Japanese steak house where they twirl their knives and cook in a thoroughly entertaining way, but that doesn’t make it smart for me to hurl insults in the chefs’ direction while they juggle actually knives and cook over an incredibly hot stove, any of which could kill me before my next terrible joke.
Should Russ have said he’d kick the guy’s wife’s ass? Obviously not. But jumping immediately to whataboutism does nothing to address the actual foundation of the problem: That some fans consider the amount they paid for the ticket an excuse to behave like an imbecile. It isn’t like Russ would single this guy out in other circumstances. He’s there to do a job.
Professional athletes, while they might look superhuman, are still people just like us, and unless you want to welcome people showing up to your place of work to yell some truly foul things to you and about your family, maybe rethink what you consider a part of the fan experience.