About a dozen NBA players gathered for a teleconference with officials in the league office this summer to discuss what they perceive as one of the biggest problems in the game; fan behavior.
According to ESPN, many players of the NBA believe spectator behavior is worsening as time goes on, and the numbers show that they’re right.
After high-profile incidents involving Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, Kyle Lowry, and others last season, a zero tolerance for abusive or hateful behavior is to become the NBA’s policy going forward, the publication reports. The league is changing and toughening its code of conduct for fans, putting those in closest proximity to the players and the court on alert that anything over the line will lead to ejections and more.
The nature and urgency of the policy come as race adds to the complexity of the issue: Most NBA players are black, and it seems like most of those in the closest seats are not. While not every incident is racially motivated, but some clearly are. Some of the for mentioned incidents involved racial slurs and taunts according to reports.
“We’ve added any sexist language or LGBTQ language, any denigrating language in that way, anything that is non-basketball-related,” said the NBA’s executive vice president and chief security officer Jerome Pickett. “So ‘your mother’ comments, talking about your family, talking about test scores, anything non-basketball-related, we’ve added that in as well as being something that we will go and pull a fan out of the seat and investigate what happened.”
Both Westbrook and Cousins were subjected to racist taunts in Salt Lake City and Boston, the Jazz and Celtics banned the fans involved in those disturbances. Lowry was pushed by Mark Stevens, a minority partner of the Golden State Warriors’ ownership group, who sat courtside during the NBA Finals. Stevens was then banned from team business for a year by the league.
ESPN claims there were more, citing those to be the highest-profile incidents. However, the NBA would not release exact numbers, which they believe to be very low, but Pickett said the ejections of fans in the courtside area more than doubled last season.
In fact, the players’ union commented, insisting that the problem is getting bigger and bigger.
“Last season, I began to sense even at the games I was attending that there was a certain, I’ll call it absence of civility, that permeated the games,” said Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association. “I was seeing more bad-mouthing opposing teams that were not simply ‘you suck,’ which every one of us will tolerate, but really nasty, nasty comments being directed at players.”
“I try very hard not to have my default answer be, ‘It’s racism.’ I really do because I don’t think that necessarily advances the argument,” Roberts continued. “If it’s undoubtedly that, then I’m happy to say it.”
Roberts acknowledged that it is not always racism; he also said he had received complaints from many white players about being the subject of nastiness from fans.
To help enforce the new policy, a standard announcement shown at every NBA arena for years will now be displayed and promoted more during each game. Season-ticket holders have been put on notice by teams that they could lose their seats, even if they give their tickets to someone else who goes over the line and harasses players or officials reports say.
Fans who are believed to have been involved in incidents will now be removed from seats while officials investigate, rather than waiting for an explanation. It’s said in the past when a security guard asked those in a certain area what happened; no one would volunteer information with the suspected heckler present.
With the new policy in place, NBA players will hopefully feel protected and spend less time and money focusing on negative comments from spectators.
“I think players are definitely vulnerable,” Golden State’s Draymond Green said after the Lowry incident. “Any time you’re in a situation where you can do no right, like in defending yourself, you’re vulnerable.”