A Utah Jazz fan who was banned for life from Vivint Smart Home Arena after allegedly yelling what Russell Westbrook claimed were “racial” and “inappropriate” remarks at him, has sued the Houston Rockets player and the Jazz, saying he was wrongly accused.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in 4th District Court in Utah County on behalf of Shane Keisel and his girlfriend Jennifer Huff, seeks $100 million in compensatory and punitive damages, alleging defamation and infliction of emotional distress. There has been no comment from Westbrook, who was playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder at the time of the March 11 incident, or his representatives. The Jazz said in a statement that lawsuit is legally and factually baseless. “The organization investigated the underlying incident and acted in an appropriate and responsible manner. We intend to vigorously defend the lawsuit.”
The lawsuit (via the Deseret News) states that “Mr. Keisel’s heckling was of the same kind and caliber as that of the other audience members in the section.” Video shared on social media by the Deseret News showed Westbrook yelling, “I’ll f— him up. I promise you. I promise you. I’ll f— you up. You and your wife. I’ll f— you up.” The video did not include audio of the fan’s statements or who what preceded Westbrook’s reaction. After the game, he told reporters that he reacted to “completely disrespectful” comments that he believed were “racial” in nature.
“How it started was a young man and his wife in the stands told me to get down on my knees like I’m used to,” Westbrook said. “For me, that’s completely disrespectful. To me, I think it’s racial and inappropriate. . . . There are a lot of great fans around the world that like to come to the game to enjoy the game, [and] there are people who come to the game to say mean and disrespectful things about me and my family.”
In announcing the ban the next day, the Jazz said in a statement that it was “based on excessive and derogatory verbal abuse directed at a player. The Utah Jazz will not tolerate fans who act inappropriately. There is no place in our game for personal attacks or disrespect.” The NBA fined Westbrook $25,000 for “directing profanity and threatening language” at fans.
Keisel’s lawsuit states that “the crowd was shocked by the ferocity of Mr. Westbrook’s outburst when he had only been told to take care of his knees, albeit in a mocking manner that implied he would need to use them extensively to ensure his team’s victory.” In an interview with KSL Sports, Keisel said he told Westbrook to “sit down and ice his knees” because both were wrapped.
Before the team’s next home game, owner Gail Miller addressed fans as the team’s Fan Code of Conduct rules were shown on the Jumbotron. “This shouldn’t happen,” she said. “We are not a racist community.”
According to court documents obtained by the Deseret News, Keisel alleges that he lost his job at Brent Brown Toyota and his place in a pilot training program with SkyWest Airlines because of publicity over the incident. It also says he has received death threats and personal attacks and that Huff has suffered as well.
Westbrook and Jazz fans have a history, as The Post’s Ben Golliver noted. After a season-ending Game 6 loss to Utah in the first round of the 2018 playoffs, Westbrook swiped at a fan who was attempting to film him with a camera phone as he walked off the court. After that incident, Westbrook told reporters: “I don’t confront fans, fans confront me.” He singled out Utah fans for saying “disrespectful, vulgar things.” A fan was banned after that incident.
Westbrook repeated those themes after the game in March and again accused Jazz fans of crossing the line throughout his career.
“For many years, I’ve done all the right things,” he said. “I’ve never done anything to hurt or harm anybody. I’ve never been in any trouble or fought a fan. Been in the league 11 years: clean slate. Humble. I take all the criticism from everybody. I’ve been doing the same thing for years. For me, disrespect will not be taken.”