With the NBA playoffs in full swing, it's been a welcome sign to see fans back in arenas across the country. However, several high-profile cases of unruly fan behavior have soured their return.
Players have been doused with popcorn, spat on and had other objects thrown at them within the last week. On Monday evening, a fan even went onto the court while a game was in play.
Late last week, the spike in unruly behavior prompted the NBA last week to enact an "enhanced code of conduct" for fans.
"The return of more NBA fans to our arenas has brought great excitement and energy to the start of the playoffs, but it is critical that we all show respect for players, officials and our fellow fans," the league said in a statement. "An enhanced fan code of conduct will be vigorously enforced in order to ensure a safe and respectful environment for all involved."
The NBA Player's Association has also denounced the unruly behavior of fans.
"True fans of this game honor and respect the dignity of our players," the union said in a statement last week. "No true fan would seek to harm them or violate their personal space. Those who do have no place in our arenas, and their conduct is appropriately evaluated by law enforcement just as if it occurred on a public street. Respect our Players. Respect our Game."
NBPA Statement on Fan Behavior— NBPA (@TheNBPA) May 27, 2021
Link to the full press release here: https://t.co/DDWsBdmSUz pic.twitter.com/Z0JS01OK65
Below is a list of the high-profile incidents that have taken place at NBA playoff games in recent days.
Fan pours popcorn on Russell Westbrook
After suffering an injury during a May 26 game, Wizards G Russell Westbrook was limping toward the locker room when a fan at Wells Fargo Arena in Philadelphia poured popcorn on him. A visibly upset Westbrook had to be restrained by arena personnel.
"Obviously, I've learned to kind of look the other way, but after a certain extent, you can't just keep looking there another way," Westbrook said following the game. "There has to be some penalties or something to put in place where fans can't just come to the games and do and say as they please because they wouldn't do that s--- anywhere else, any other setting, and I'm sick and tired of it, honestly."
The Philadelphia 76ers banned the fan from the arena and revoked his season tickets following the incident.
Russell Westbrook appeared to have popcorn poured on his head by a fan on his way to the locker room with an apparent injury.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 27, 2021
The fan was ejected from the game. pic.twitter.com/WgtvKMFYHH
Fan spits on Trae Young
The same night as the popcorn incident in Philadelphia, a fan spit on Hawks G Trae Young as he inbounded the ball at Madison Square Garden.
The incident came days after Young won Game 1 for the Hawks with a last-second shot, drawing the ire of New York Knicks Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks later confirmed that a fan had spat at Young and said they had indefinitely banned the fan from the arena.
A fan that appeared to spit on Trae Young last night has been BANNED from MSG, per @ShamsCharania. 😳 pic.twitter.com/03a3dEgsvV— House of Highlights (@HoHighlights) May 27, 2021
"For spitting and things like that, that's uncalled for in any arena and any environment," Young said on the ESPN broadcast prior to Game 3 in Atlanta. "So that's disgusting, but we got to move forward and for me, I just focus on this team."
Fans removed from Jazz game
Later in the evening on May 26, three fans were removed from a game between the Utah Jazz and the Memphis Grizzlies in Salt Lake City over explicit and racist comments made toward the family of Grizzlies G Ja Morant.
Morant's father claims that fans made sexually explicit comments to his wife and another made racially charged comments about him.
"My family should be able cheer for me & my teammates without getting inappropriate s*** said to them," Morant later tweeted.
as they should . my family should be able cheer for me & my teammates without getting inappropriate shit said to them 💯 https://t.co/CWiJIpkq03— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) May 28, 2021
Three Jazz fans were suspended indefinitely from Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City following the incident.
Celtics fan throws water bottle at Kyrie Irving
During the Brooklyn Nets' victory over the Celtics in Boston on Sunday night, a fan nearly hit G Kyrie Irving with a water bottle as he left the floor.
With Irving being a former Celtic, he was already a target for the ire of Boston fans. But Sunday's incident took the feud to dangerous levels.
"It has been that way in history in terms of entertainment, performers and sports for a long period of time and just underlying racism and just treating people like they're in a human zoo," Irving later said. "Throwing stuff at people, saying things. There is a certain point where it gets to be too much."
A bottle of water appeared to have been thrown at Kyrie Irving as the Nets were exiting the floor in Boston. pic.twitter.com/u6pZDCaArJ— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 31, 2021
The fan who threw the water bottle was arrested following the game and has been banned for life from TD Garden.
Fan runs onto floor in D.C.
With the ball in play at one of end of the court, a fan at Capital One Arena in D.C. ran onto the opposite side of the floor, jumped and slapped the backboard of the hoop.
The fan was immediately tackled by security and taken into custody. The arena owners say they are pursuing charges against the fan.
🚨Better look🚨— Darren M. Haynes (@DarrenMHaynes) June 1, 2021
Fan runs on court and gets tackled for loss at Wizards game #DCAboveAll pic.twitter.com/317Wfu4lW4
What's the cause?
While it's unclear what's led to the increase in unruly fans in recent days, former NBA player Metta World Peace speculated in a CNN interview Monday that it could be linked to pent-up frustration from the pandemic.
"I think fans have been home and stressed for so long — nobody's perfect, but you can't take it out on the players," World Peace said.
Former player and coach Isiah Thomas agreed.
"We've been pent up in COVID for so long; maybe this is a reason," Thomas said. "But then you also have to look at it historically because this has been happening for a long time."
An NBA game was the site of one of the most notorious fan/player fights in American sports history.
In a 2004 brawl that became known as the Malice in the Palace, World Peace — then with the Indiana Pacers — stormed into the stands in Detroit and fought with fans after objects were thrown at him and his teammates.
Following that incident, the NBA issued 146 games worth of suspensions to nine players, including an 86-game suspension for World Peace.