New proof of the complicated relationship between NBA athletes and their fans

Photo Credit: USA Today

Photo Credit: USA Today

Last night, during the Dallas Mavericks game four victory against the one seeded Phoenix Suns in the second round of the 2022 playoffs, a much more important topic arose than a victory or defeat: the mother and wife of Suns’ guard Chris Paul were pushed and heckled by Mavericks fans. 

This prompted Paul himself to exchange words with the fan during the game and continued to make his feelings known in the post game presser and on social media.  

This incident, along with a string of others throughout these 2022 playoffs have really called into question what should be allowed in the relationship between players and fans in the NBA.

The complicated relationship between players and fans in the NBA has been a topic of discussion for years.  Unfortunately, it is a rather nuanced discussion that isn’t just black and white.  While most of the time players feed off of the energy and love from fans and create positive and endearing relationships, there are some instances that lead to utter chaos.

None of these instances are more notable than the one labeled Malice at the Palace.  On November 19, 2004, there was a game between Eastern Conference rivals Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons.  It had started out as a heated exchange between players late in the fourth quarter, when the game was all but over, as the Pacers held a fifteen point advantage over the Pistons.  Anger over the deficit boiled over for Detroit star Ben Wallace, who pushed Pacers forward Ron Artest.  A scuffle ensued, and the players were eventually separated.  Artest was cooling off by the scorers table when a fan dumped a beer on him.

Artest would jump into the stands and start to pummel the WRONG GUY, and The Palace became pandemonium.  Artest’s teammate Stephen Jackson jumped into the stands in defense of his teammate, while other fans stormed the court and were confronted by Indiana forward Jermaine O’ Neal, who began to throw punches.

By the time it was all over, fans, players, and coaches alike were bewildered by what had occurred.  Wallace would be suspended for six games, Jackson for thirty, O’ Neal for twenty five, and Artest for the remainder of the year, which was a staggering seventy three games.

But what about that fan who had thrown the beer.  His name was John Green, and he would be banned from The Palace for life and receive a thirty day jail sentence.  The fact that he and Artest would develop a friendship after Artest reached out on twitter is besides the point in this case.  Should Ron Artest have lost out on an entire season of basketball and payment for an altercation started by a fan?

Eighteen years later, this is a question still being asked.  During round one of the NBA playoffs, one of the biggest stories was the Boston Celtics fans versus Kyrie Irving.  Irving’s time as a Celtic was less than ideal, and his actions leading up to his departure from the organization left fans bitter and spiteful.  So, when Irving’s Nets matched up with Boston in the first round, the fans let him have it.

He would be booed whenever he had the ball and was subject to profanity and insults.  He responded by flipping the bird to the crowd multiple times throughout game one, which earned him a fifty thousand dollar fine.

While it is certain that this is not an example the NBA wants to set for those watching, is it not within the rights of the players to defend themselves?

This question was brought up again in the second round series between the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors.  After being elbowed in the face by Memphis’s Xavier Tillman, Draymond Green began to head to the locker room to tend to the bleeding above his eye, he was met with booes from Grizzlies fans on his way out, and responded as Kyrie had: with the middle finger.  He would be fined twenty five thousand dollars for this, which he said he expected and was okay with, because it felt good to respond.  

Now, here we are, with the incident involving Chris Paul’s family.  Fans had put their hands on his mother and his wife, and his kids claimed that they were feeling unsafe.  This led Paul to speaking his mind on Twitter, and making some perfectly valid points.

“Wanna fine players for saying stuff to the fans but the fans can put they hands on our families…f*** that!!”

There have been many players, coaches, and fans alike that have echoed these comments.  They’ve begun to wonder, when will the NBA put the concerns and safety of the players and their families first instead of the fans?  Just because the fans are paying to watch doesn’t make them invincible.  They should be held accountable just as the players are.  Their punishment should extend further than being kicked out of the arena.  

When will these changes come?  Who knows.  Until then, The NBA needs to really look into cases such as this and hand out harsher punishments to these fans.  A precedent has to be set that such behavior will not be tolerated.  The players must have faith that NBA commissioner Adam Silver will get that done.