An NBA fan who was banned for life from a team’s home stadium over alleged “racial” heckling has officially cried foul. Shane Keisel, whose punishment came last season after All-Star Russell Westbrook confronted him following choice words yelled from the stands during a game, resorted to a familiar racist trope when he filed a lawsuit on Monday against the Utah Jazz as well as the NBA’s one-time MVP, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
The lawsuit from Keisel, who has maintained that he only mocked Westbrook’s knees, claims his heckling was on a par with other fans yelling at players. Whatever was said prompted Westbrook to say, “I’ll fuck you up,” in a moment that was caught on video. “You and your wife.”
“Mr. Keisel’s heckling was of the same kind and caliber as that of the other audience members in the section,” the lawsuit says at one point before continuing later using loaded language that arguably has racial connotations. “The crowd was shocked by the ferocity of Mr. Westbrook’s outburst when he had only been told to take care of his knees.”
At the time, Westbrook specifically said he thought that Keisel’s comments during the exchange were “racial” in nature. Westbrook claimed that he heard Keisel tell him to “get down on your knees like you used to.”
The lawsuit may actually have no merit at all, considering that racist tweets from Keisel’s since-deleted Twitter account surfaced online hours after the confrontation. They include one tweet saying that “Westbrook needs to go back where he came from” and another where he called someone “nigger boy.” At least one had the #MAGA hashtag.
There was also another tweet where Keisel appeared to encourage violence against Westbrook.
The inclusion of the word “ferocity” in the lawsuit’s language was interesting because it is a noun typically associated with animals. It harkened back to the centuries-old racist tradition of comparing Black males to animals which, as the Brennan Center for Justice reminds us, is “part of a long American history of dehumanizing suspects of color.” Vocabulary.com writes that “Things known for their ferocity include wild animals, terrifying thunder storms, and fierce battlefield fights.”
NBA players have long complained about being subjected to racism from fans around the country, but especially those in Utah.
During a playoff series in 2016, Utah Jazz “fans apparently shouted racist comments at African-American players on the [Golden State] Warriors,” according to Bleacher Report.
However, when it comes to racist displays and taunts from crowds at NBA games, a quick look at the recent past shows that what happened to Westbrook last season was far from an anomaly, suggesting the league just might have a problem with its racist fans.