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NBA teams are cracking down on fans attacking players, and harsher punishments could be on the way

Scott Davis   

NBA teams are cracking down on fans attacking players, and harsher punishments could be on the way
  • The NBA playoffs have had several incidents in which fans physically or verbally attacked players.
  • Players have called for more protection, but permanent bans from all games may be the only solution.
  • There is fear of a future physical confrontation between fans and players.

A rising number of incidents between fans and NBA players in recent days has raised discussion about how to punish fans who cross the line.

Since the start of the NBA playoffs, with teams allowing an increasing number of fans into arenas, there have been several incidents involving fans physically threatening or demeaning players.

In Philadelphia, a fan threw popcorn on Russell Westbrook as the Washington Wizards star walked back to the locker room.

In New York, a fan spat in the direction of Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young.

In Boston, a fan threw a water bottle at Brooklyn Nets All-Star Kyrie Irving.

The father of Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant said that Utah Jazz fans directed racial taunts at him and his wife.

A fan ran onto the court in the middle of play in Philadelphia before being tackled (though he didn't appear interested in interacting with players).

Teams and law enforcement have individually come down hard on these fans.

The 76ers and Knicks both banned the fans from their arenas.

The fan who threw a bottle at Irving was arrested and charged with assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon.

The Jazz issued an apology to the Morants and banned the fans who made the comments.

There are calls to do more to protect players, but the solution is unclear

"To be completely honest, this s--- is getting out of hand, especially for me," Westbrook said after popcorn was dumped on his head. "The amount of disrespect, the amount of fans just doing whatever the f--- they want to do - it's just out of pocket ... In these arenas, you got to start protecting the players."

There have been similar calls throughout the NBA world. NBA Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Reggie Miller said during Game 4 between the 76ers and Wizards after the fan had run onto the court undeterred that the NBA needs to do more to keep players safe.

What exactly that means is unclear, however.

Portland Trail Blazers star guard Damian Lillard said permanent bans from all NBA games might be the only solution.

"You can put more security in the stands and try to monitor as many people as possible, but somebody throwing a bottle from their seat you really can't control ... A security guard can't jump 20 feet in the air and grab the bottle before it flies onto the court," Lillard said.

He added: "One thing you can do is make the consequences crazy. I see a lot of these people getting banned for life from some of these arenas. I think they should be banned from NBA games, period. Not just in Boston or Philly or whatever - they should be banned from NBA games, period."

However, Wizards coach Scott Brooks had further questions about what that would entail.

"Banning them and this and that, what does that mean?" Brooks said. "Is there facial recognition that [means] you can't get a ticket on the secondary market and don't shave for a week and wear a hat and still come in?

"There's criminal charges, but they've gotta get something on their record, and they've gotta get exposed, and they have to pay money out of their pockets."

The league is unlikely to take Charles Barkley's advice.

"If a fan says something really, really mean or pours something on you, you should be able to say, 'Come on down' - like Chuck Woolery used to say - 'to halfcourt, and let's settle it like men,'" Barkley said on TNT's "Inside the NBA."

While Barkley was (mostly) kidding, the NBA has an ugly history of physical confrontations between fans and players before. At the rate incidents are occurring this postseason, the possibility of fans or players harming one another is growing.

The Athletic's David Aldridge wrote that the NBA needs to come up with a solution, fast.

"You can dismiss this as one or two bad apples in a crowd of 10,000 to 20,000 ... But hope is not a strategy. The Malice at the Palace didn't happen in the 1700s. The NBA is tempting fate."


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