When video surfaced of Russell Westbrook responding to a Utah Jazz fan who’d been racially heckling him earlier this week, an exchange that led to the banning of said fan from any future Jazz games, player reaction came pouring in. LeBron James spoke of fans crossing “bold lines,” while Utah’s own Donovan Mitchell released a statement urging everyone to take a stand against racism and hate speech.
On Thursday, Kyrie Irving, fresh off dropping a triple-double on the Sacramento Kings, said these type of incidents happen far more than you think.
““It’s funny, man, it’s just funny,” Irving said. “I’m sorry, this is just — because it happens so often, just, most of the time it doesn’t get documented. This one is the first time it actually got caught on camera and you caught a player responding like that on camera and it’s no justification on either side, who’s right, who’s wrong. But at the same time, we’re trying to protect the league that goes about being compassionate for the players, being compassionate for the fans.
“The interaction — being very, very passionate about your team, your home team and who you root for, the players, and it’s a big thing,” Irving continued. “We all try to protect the league and I think that when it comes, like, when it’s an individual battle with a person in the crowd and they say something violently disrespectful like that, then it’s going to warrant a reaction. We all know Russ, so somebody says something like that, he’s not just going crazy out of nowhere like that, so I’m just glad he’s OK.”
Irving went on to say that he’s “heard it all” from fans, no matter what state he’s playing in. He said he understand fans’ passion for their teams, and appreciates their desires to interact, but not when he’s working and when it crosses the line of being racial or disrespectful.
“I don’t really mind the fan interaction, but not when I’m at work and you’re trying to get me to go,” Irving said. “Let me come to your office and yell in your ear like that. That’s the same thing I value, it’s just the respect thing of the game and people’s professions.”