Washington Wizards star Russell Westbrook left Wednesday night’s NBA playoff game against the Philadelphia 76ers early due to an injury, but not before a fan was able to dump popcorn on his head. Now the point guard and other athletes are calling on the league to increase its efforts to protect players from similar treatment.
With COVID-19 restrictions loosened, more fans are now able to attend sporting games. However, the excitement might’ve been too much for an unidentified fan seated in Section 104 of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who decided to pour popcorn on Westbrook as the ballplayer limped back to the locker rooms after twisting his ankle.
Westbrook became infuriated almost instantly and had to be held down by several staff members. Announcer Marc Zumoff called out the behavior immediately, telling viewers, “Fans, come out and cheer, come out and boo, yell all you want. We encourage that. This is just plain stupidity.” The fan was removed from the stadium shortly after.
Westbrook addressed the incident in a statement obtained by ESPN. Candidly speaking, the 32-year-old said, “To be completely honest, this sh-t is getting out of hand, especially for me. The amount of disrespect, the amount of fans just doing whatever the f-ck they want to do — it’s just out of pocket. There are certain things that cross the line. Any other setting … a guy were to come up on the street and pour popcorn on my head, you know what happens.” He later called out the league stating, “In these arenas, you got to start protecting the players. We’ll see what the NBA does.”
The athlete appears to be growing tired of the continuous outburst of antics from fans. As reported by the sports outlet, four years ago, a Sixers fan wearing an Allen Iverson jersey was ejected from the game midway through the first quarter after throwing up both of his middle fingers at Westbrook. At the time, Westbrook brushed off the situation, telling reporters, “I turned a new leaf though. I leave that alone because that cost me $25,000 last time.” He added, “The fan, he’ll be all right. They can say whatever they want to the players and do what they want, but my job is to play basketball, and that’s what I do.”
He added, “to get food thrown on top of me, it’s just bullsh-t,” he said. “Obviously, I have learned to look the other way. But to a certain extent, you can’t just keep looking the other way. There has to be some penalties or something to put in place where fans just can’t come to the games and do and say as they please. I really take this very personal. I am tired of the same thing. To me, I don’t really see nothing changing. It just gets worse.”
Other players have since weighed in on the matter, including Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, who requested to see the person who displayed what the president of business operations for the Wells Fargo Center’s Valerie Camillo labeled as “classless, unacceptable behavior.”
In a post shared to his Twitter account following Wednesday night’s game, James wrote, “By the way WE AS THE PLAYERS wanna see who threw that popcorn on Russ while he was leaving the game tonight with a injury!!” He added, “There’s cameras all over arenas so there’s no excuse! Cause if the 👟was on the other🦶🏾.🎥#ProtectOutPlayer.”
Westbrook’s teammate Bradley Beal called the incident “disgusting,” while team coach Scott Brooks suggested the person be banned from the games altogether. Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported that the person would “have his season ticket membership revoked, effectively immediately. In addition, he will be banned from all events at Wells Fargo Center indefinitely.”