As the first round of the NBA playoffs kicked into gear this week, the league saw an uptick in fan-related incidents involving players on Wednesday
A Knicks fan spit on Hawks star Trae Young, a Sixers fan poured popcorn on Russell Westbrook of the Wizards and, closer to home, three Jazz fans hurled racial insults at Ja Morant’s parents during Game 2, a 141-129 Jazz victory.
The fans involved in each incident were banned indefinitely from the respective arenas, including three Jazz fans from Vivint Arena. Morant’s father, Tee, told ESPN what he heard from fans at the game: one fan made a “sexually explicit” remark to his wife, Jamie. Another said, according to Tee Morant, “I’ll put a nickel in your back and watch you dance, boy.” That remark caused nearby Jazz fans to alert security, according to ESPN. A third fan yelled two expletives at Jamie Morant.
As Jazz-Grizzlies shifts to FedEx Forum Saturday night for Game 3, with the series tied at 1, the fallout from Wednesday continued on Friday.
“It’s very unacceptable, what went on,” Morant said on a Zoom call with reporters, less than 48 hours after his Game 2 tour de force, in which he scored a franchise playoff-record 47 points. “It’s just mind-blowing that that type of stuff still continues to go on in the world today. Our focus now, me and my family, is on Game 3. We’re very excited to be back home in Memphis, where we’re comfortable, have fans who embrace us, who love, who treat us like their own.”
In describing how he came to find out about what had happened Wednesday night, Morant said, knowing where his family was sitting, he looked up in the third quarter to see his parents talking with Vivint Arena security. Morant told Grizzlies security to tell his parents “to chill, sit down and watch the game, and really don’t even cheer no more because that affected some people in the stands.”
Morant looked up again at one point and saw his family being escorted to a different section. After the game, at the team hotel, Morant’s parents told him what was said by Jazz fans.
Morant noted Friday that his parents also told him that plenty of Jazz fans came to their defense as things were happening at their seats.
“Everyone’s been cooped up with COVID, staying home, clamoring for sports, and being back in social arenas and atmospheres, and this is what you do,” Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins said. “It’s at the core of humanity that needs to get addressed, and I’m beyond disappointed.”
Wednesday’s incident has only served to strengthen the infamous reputation Jazz fans already held, stepping over the line in terms of conduct towards opposing teams. To that end, Morant at one point said, “I’ve heard about Utah before.”
Jenkins followed Morant on the Zoom call and was asked whether or not Utah has that reputation, plus whether or not that problem is more pronounced in Utah vs. elsewhere.
“I can’t address the second part, but the first part, yes,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins and veteran forward Jonas Valanciunas offered optimism that a similar scene would not unfold during Saturday’s Game 3 and Monday’s Game 4 in Memphis. While the Jazz were able to host 13,000 fans for Games 1 and 2 at Vivint, which seats 18,306, FedEx Forum has permission to have 55% capacity, or close to 10,000 fans.
“That’s terrible, especially families,” Valanciunas said. “I don’t even know what to say. This is tough to see and one thing I hope is our fans are going to be different because we’re above that. We’re going to treat everybody the same and be nice to the opposing team. We can cheer for our team and support our team, but everybody’s equal and everybody deserves to be treated equal.”
Game 3 will mark the first time the Grizzlies have played at FedEx Forum since May 19, a 100-96 do-or-die victory over the San Antonio Spurs in a play-in game. The Grizzlies beat the Golden State Warriors on the road two nights later to advance to face the Jazz.