This week, Yahoo’s Chris Haynes reported that the Boston Celtics had banned a fan for two seasons after the fan called DeMarcus Cousins the n-word during the Warriors’ sole visit to Boston this season.
The incident happened on January 26 when the Warriors played the Celtics, a game the Warriors ended up winning, 115-111. It was during this matchup that a Celtics fan in attendance reportedly said the slur to Cousins. According to Hayes, Cousins immediately reported the incident to an arena security person, who removed the fan.
It’s unclear when the two-year ban by the Celtics was enacted – if the decision was just made this week, or if this is just the first time it is being reported – but whenever it was, it wasn’t enough.
The fan should have been banned for life.
The NBA always has an uneasy relationship with its customers and their behavior toward the league’s players. The fact that Cousins was able to hear this person and report him to security suggests that the fan was pretty close to courtside.
In no other sport can fans get this close to players, and with that comes a responsibility of the league and its teams to protect them from harassment and physical harm.
After an incident with Russell Westbrook and a Jazz fan earlier this season, Jazz ownership drew a line in the sand, banning the fan for life and sending a clear message to its supporters that this type of behavior would not be tolerated. They made the decision loudly and publicly, then went as far as having their owner step onto the court during a game to speak with fans, making it clear that this would no longer be a part of the organization or its fan culture.
That decision was tough, but the Jazz realized it was worth it for their fanbase to be painted badly for a few days to try and root the problem out and confront it head on.
The Celtics … did not do this. They didn’t ban the fan for life. They banned him for two years, and they did so quietly.
This isn’t the action of an organization that wants to address a problem in its fan culture. (And sorry, Boston, I say this as someone who grew up in New England, but it is a problem in your fan culture. It may be overstated at time, but it’s a problem.) It’s the action of an organization who wants to quietly make something go away. Paint the fan as a bad egg, give him a suspension that seems harsh but not too harsh, then hope no one talks about it.
This isn’t how things change. Utah had to deal with a few bad days of press, but they understood a part of their fanbase, however small, was making their games a terrible experience for visiting players. They confronted it head on, banned the fan for life, and did their best to make a change. The Celtics, on the other hand, did not.