Russell Westbrook was frustrated, not just because the Washington Wizards lost to the 76ers, 120-95, Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center, going down by two games to none in their best-of-seven first-round NBA playoff series.
The blowout loss was difficult enough to take and so was the ankle injury that Westbrook suffered and sent him to the locker room early in the fourth quarter.
While departing, Westbrook had popcorn thrown at him. A fan in Section 104 was ejected from the arena.
After the game Westbrook was justifiably frustrated, calling for the NBA to better protect the players from situations like this.
“Somehow the protection has to come somewhere,” Westbrook said. “Any other setting fans, they wouldn’t do nothing like that, any other setting that isn’t protecting them from myself going into the stands. If there was nothing to stop me from getting to that person, this wouldn’t happen.”
Westbrook has a way of drawing the ire of opposing fans, but nobody deserves the treatment he received.
“It’s been like this since I have been in the league,” he said. “For me, I just get a different reaction obviously from the crowd for whatever reason. I really take this very, very personal, and I am tired of the same thing. To me, I really don’t see any changes. It just gets worse.”
Valerie Camillo, president of business operations for the Wells Fargo Center, issued a statement after the game.
“This was classless, unacceptable behavior, and we’re not going to tolerate it at Wells Fargo Center,” she said. “We’re proud to have the most passionate fans in the country and the best home-court and home-ice advantage around, but this type of behavior has no place in our arena.”
Westbrook was asked if he has had previous problems in Philadelphia.
“Yes, I had problems here before,” he said. “A fan flipped me off a couple of years ago here. Like I said, as a player, if you are a good player people want to bash you for whatever reason that is.”
Westbrook is fine with getting bashed as long as things don’t get out of hand.
“I don’t mind the trash talk, whether it is, ‘Westbrook sucks, Westbrook can’t shoot, Westbrook can’t play.’ That is all great,” he said. “If you cross the line and start mentioning family, start mentioning derogatory things, and if you throw popcorn on me ... That is crossing the line. That is where it has to stop. Everybody loves sports and screaming, and that is great. Keep it to sports. Don’t cross that line. … At the same time, I have to be smart. ... I can’t go into the stands.”
Teammate Bradley Beal said he didn’t see the incident involving Westbrook, but after the game he heard what happened.
“It’s disgusting,” Beal said. “Us as players, we don’t get to protect ourselves. [We can’t] run in the stands and confront somebody. It’s disrespectful.”
He said some fans lose sight that this is the players’ workplace.
“We are here to entertain everyone in this arena,” Beal said. “And granted, it may be one bad apple, whatever the case may be. But it is still not a good look for everyone in the city, the team, all fans. That’s BS. We go out to compete at a high level night in and night out. We put our bodies on the line. We make this one of the most entertaining sports in all of sports.”
Beal said he heard some things that shouldn’t have been said.
“We got a lot of nasty fans,” Beal said. “I even got some crazy language spoken to me tonight, and my kids are sitting next to me.”
The series shifts to Washington for Game 3 on Saturday.
On Thursday, the NBA issued a statement.
“The return of more NBA fans to our arenas has brought great excitement and energy to the start of the playoffs, but it is critical that we all show respect for players, officials and our fellow fans. An enhanced fan code of conduct will be vigorously enforced in order to ensure a safe and respectful environment for all involved.”
The Sixers also issued a statement on Thursday.
“After an investigation into the incident that occurred at last night’s game, we have determined that the person involved will have his season ticket membership revoked, effectively immediately. In addition, he will be banned from all events at Wells Fargo Center indefinitely.
“We apologize to Russell Westbrook and the Washington Wizards for being subjected to this type of unacceptable and disrespectful behavior. There is no place for it in our sport or arena.”