It was literally an insult to injury. As Russell Westbrook exited the Wizards' Game 2 loss to the Sixers with an ankle sprain, a Philadelphia fan threw popcorn on him through a hole in the top of the tunnel to the locker room. Westbrook stepped back to see who threw it, while arena security and Wizards trainers held him back and ushered him away.
Afterwards, Westbrook was understandably upset and said it spoke to a larger problem of the NBA not protecting its players from unruly crowds.
"To be completely honest, man, this s--- is getting out of hand, especially for me. The amount of disrespect, the amount of fans just doing whatever the f--- they want to do, it’s [wrong]. Any other setting, I’m all for the fans enjoying the game and having fun. It’s part of sports, I get it. But there are certain things that cross the line. Any other setting, I know for a fact they wouldn’t come up, a guy wouldn’t come up on the street and pour popcorn on my head because they know what would happen. A guy wouldn’t come up to me talking about my family and my kids on the street because the response would be different," Westbrook said.
"The arena’s have gotta start protecting the players. We’ll see what the NBA does, but there’s a huge problem for us as players, and for me, where fans they say whatever and the consequences for me are a lot more [detrimental] for me than the fans in the stands because they’re untouchable. They can say what they want at a sporting event and they enjoy the game. But what a lot of fans don’t realize is this is my job. I don’t just play, this is something I love to do, it’s something I compete at. So, to get food thrown on top of me, it’s just bulls---, really."
Westbrook went on to say he thinks there should be penalties for fans who do cross the line. While there were some reports the fan was ejected, Westbrook said he asked security and was told the fan had run out of the stadium to evade authorities.
Westbrook has had some bad experiences with fans in Philadelphia before. There was a photo that went viral a few years ago of a Sixers fan flipping him off with both middle fingers. Philly fans happen to have a bad reputation across sports with infamous stories over the years like Santa Claus getting booed at an Eagles game.
Head coach Scott Brooks played for the Sixers and likes to think it is not indicative of the city's fans in general.
"It’s very disrespectful. Philadelphia is better than that, if it did happen," Brooks said. "Hopefully the kid or the person is banned from the league watching any games. It’s unacceptable. They wouldn’t do that down the street."
Bradley Beal called the Westbrook incident "disgusting" and said postgame he also had a bad interaction with a Sixers fan during Game 2. Someone said something "crazy" to him and the fan happened to be sitting near Beal's kids.
"Part of me wanted to go over there and say 'who are you talking to? I'm a grown-ass man.' But I can't do that," Beal said.
Westbrook has had a series of high-profile confrontations with fans, some involving racial undertones. Beal once had a fan flip him off at a game against the Warriors.
Fan and player incidents haven't part of the equation in the NBA for much of the last year-plus due to reduced crowds amid the coronavirus pandemic. But now that fans are being allowed back into arenas, the league will once again have to deal with what has been a years-long problem.
"It's a disgrace. There's no place for fans like that at these games," Davis Bertans said.