As the days of the Coronavirus are slowly coming to an end, spectators are slowly being integrated back into stadiums as the overall process of previous normality is subtly returning to fruition after a hiatus of over a year. With the NBA Playoffs beginning, it is the perfect time for fans to return to the arenas, as teams would love to have support from their fanbase, and likewise, fans who have been stuck inside their homes for over a year are eager to see their favorite team in person. However, this overexcitement has led to some recent angst from fans and incidents which have infringed on the spectator-player relationship.
Diving into the numerous scenarios, there seems to be a common catalyst for the incidents which have occurred in the playoffs, and this is a lack of respect for the players. Kevin Durant said it best when he stated, “Fans got to grow up at some point. We are not animals. We are not in a circus.” There have been many instances where athletes are viewed as figures for entertainment rather than human beings, and these incidents fall right into that category.
Among the incidents that have occurred: popcorn being poured on Russell Westbrook, a water bottle being thrown at Kyrie Irving, a Knicks fan spitting on Trae Young, and verbal insults being hurled by Jazz fans at Ja Morant and his family. While there has been justice served, as the fan who threw the water bottle has been arrested and three teams have banned fans from their arenas in light of these issues, we still seem to be far away from a solution, a peaceful entity where fans and athletes can truly coexist with no disrespect from one side to the other. This solution is seeming more and more impossible to achieve by the day.
At the end of the day, the league can’t control the actions of the thousands of fans in the arena and stop these incidents from happening. Damian Lillard captured this idea perfectly in an interview, where he stated, “Unfortunately, it’s something that you really can’t control.’ He brought up the idea of putting more security in the stands, but this seems like a waste of money and resources as fans will still feel obligated to make a scene if the game isn’t going their way or if they just want their fifteen minutes of fame. Cole Buckley was a name that nobody knew until Game 4 of the Nets vs Celtics, but now his name will forever be synonymous with the water bottle incident at TD Garden. There will always be fans who go out of their way to create chaos, so as Lillard stated, there are no clear solutions for this issue.
There will always be hecklers, and streakers, and violent fans, yet this is just a part of the sports atmosphere that while frowned upon, has been generally accepted as part of the game. Bad sportsmanship will always exist, and taking heavy precautions to eliminate it is a waste.
Playoffs will continue to commence around the league, with or without reckless fans, so while there is no clear resolution, hopefully, the number of incidents that occur begins to dwindle as this issue has not appeared in any other major sport. One possibility is the proximity of the fans to the players, as fans are closer to the athletes in basketball than any other sport, as fans courtside are right next to the players. This creates an interactive environment that could possibly provoke this type of barbaric behavior. As fans become more adjusted to normalcy and post-Coronavirus lifestyle, the incidents will most likely die down. We will see if Adam Silver takes any action or continues to let fan interaction proceed without a hiccup.
Photo: Maddie Malhotra