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Russell Westbrook incident underscores major fan-related issues during NBA Playoffs

Washington Wizards star guard Russell Westbrook was involved in an ugly incident at Wells Fargo center in Philadelphia during his team’s Game 2 outing against the 76ers Wednesday evening.

Westbrook suffered an ankle injury early in the fourth quarter after struggling through a 2-of-10 shooting performance in Washington’s second consecutive loss to the 76ers top open the first-round NBA Playoff series.

As Westbrook was heading to the locker room, a fan in Philadelphia threw popcorn on him. The former NBA MVP had to be restrained from going after said fan by security on hand. He also spoke up about the incident following the game.

“To be completely honest, this s— is getting out of hand, especially for me,” Westbrook said. “The amount of disrespect, the amount of fans just doing whatever the f— they want to do — it’s just out of pocket.”

Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook
May 26, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook (4) argues a call with referee Jacyn Goble (68) during the fourth quarter of game two against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

In response, the fan who poured popcorn Westbrook as he exited the court Wednesday at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia lost his season tickets for 76ers games and is not allowed in the arena.

Wells Fargo Center investigated the incident and released its findings 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,” the statement read. “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.”

The NBA also released 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,” the statement read. “An enhanced fan code of conduct will be vigorously enforced in order to ensure a safe and respectful environment for all involved.”

Russell Westbrook, Trae Young incidents and the return of fans

Russell Westbrook and Trae Young incidents
May 6, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) shoots the ball while Indiana Pacers center Goga Bitadze (88) defends in the fourth quarter at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

As noted by the NBA in its statement, the major backdrop here is fans returning to games after pretty much a calendar year of empty venues due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, there were multiple incident in games involving Russell Westbrook in Utah. He touched on how it has impacted him over the years the aforementioned statement.

Meanwhile, Young had a fan spit on him during his Atlanta Hawks Game 2 outing against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden Wednesday evening. Said fan has been banned from attending Knicks games moving forward.

As fans make their way back to NBA venues with the playoffs ongoing, the hope here is that this is not the start of a trend. Wednesday evening’s incidents around the Association certainly are not a great sign.

(Field Level Media contributed to this report)