TORONTO — NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday night that, after a heated exchange involving a Utah Jazz fan and Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook back in March, he spoke with the Jazz and thanked them for how they handled its aftermath.
“I did speak directly to that team, to the entire team,” Silver said at his annual news conference ahead of Game 1 of the NBA Finals. “I wanted to make sure they were satisfied with the way it was handled. They seemed to be satisfied, as well.
“I told them that, that I appreciated the way that they had handled it and that it was not going to be tolerated in the NBA, and that we also appreciated the way they had come together with management and ownership of that team. I felt their response was spot on.”
The incident, which happened on March 11, resulted in the fan being permanently banned from the arena and Westbrook being fined $25,000. Silver said he thought that the environment inside arenas has improved during his tenure, though there remains room for improvement.
“I think there’s always more we can do, and I think standards in society have changed in terms of what’s appropriate for people to say,” Silver said. “As I’ve said before, I think there is a legitimate expectation that you buy your ticket, you go into an arena, I’m only searching for the right word, call it heckle, that people would say, yes, you’re allowed to yell and scream when a guy’s on the free-throw line or whatever else. But then there’s something else that we call it hate speech, which is clearly impermissible. And I think the issue is, you know, if we just made a list, we know we wouldn’t capture everything, and there’s some aspect of you know it when you see it, and there’s also some words that otherwise aren’t incendiary, it’s the way they’re said or if they’re said in a threatening manner.
“And so we spend a lot of time talking to security people, ushers in arenas, and a lot of our arenas or most arenas now they even put up text hotlines so that a fellow fan can communicate to the arena if somebody next to them is bothersome. So I think, as I said, there’s more we can do, but we’re very focused on it.”
Silver also said the league wasn’t worried about getting involved in how the Jazz handled the situation in Utah because of the respect he has for the team’s ownership, and how he knew it would address it.
“In terms of Utah, you know, I did not see a need to step in, only because we have such tremendous confidence in the Miller family, and Gail Miller as the principal owner, I thought by her taking the court prior to the following game, speaking directly to the people in that community and saying, ‘This does not represent our community,’ I think that was much more powerful than me issuing a statement from all the way across country in the New York,” Silver said. “And again I think they handled it very well.”
The commissioner touched on several other topics during his 20-plus minute news conference, including: