MIAMI (AP) – In Miami’s first preseason game of the year, something caught the attention of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra as he stood in his usual place between the bench. team and the scorers table.
The fans, he noticed, were just a few feet away.
“The front row seats were occupied,” Spoelstra said. “We haven’t had this for a year and a half.
It is a welcome sign towards a return to normalcy. The NBA welcomes its fans once again – with the hope that everyone is playing by the rules again.
The league expects full arenas when the season begins next week, and ensuring the safety of everyone – fans, players and coaches – remains a top priority. Recognizing the high-profile incidents of unruly fan behavior in recent years, the league has partnered with the National District Attorneys Association to connect franchises with prosecutors who can serve as points of contact with teams in the event of misconduct. .
The hope is simple, that any fan who decides to be unruly understand that, if caught, the consequences will be swift and severe, as was the case in last season’s playoffs when Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving s Boston and Atlanta Trae got a bottle thrown at the head. Young got spit on in New York. In both cases, the offending fan was found and banned from these respective arenas; charges were also laid in the Boston case. And these weren’t the only cases last spring, either.
“Certainly deterrence is a goal,” said Elizabeth Maringer, senior vice president and assistant general counsel for the NBA. “It’s absolutely a goal. That’s why we have signage, that’s why we post our fan code of conduct, that’s why we do public behavior announcements. We want to discourage anyone who is considering doing something from doing it, especially if it is going to cross the line of criminal behavior. “
The NBA met with players in the summer of 2019 and came out of those talks with a renewed focus on safety after incidents such as Russell Westbrook being the subject of racist taunts in Salt Lake City – he also got kicked out popcorn in Philadelphia last season – and Kyle Lowry pushed around in an NBA Finals game at Golden State by a minority partner of the Warriors-owned group.
The pandemic struck a few months later. The 2019-20 season resumed without fans, last season started with empty buildings, and most cities were nowhere near full arenas for games until the spring and summer playoffs. last. It was during the playoffs when Irving got hit and someone spat at Young.
“Imagine a stranger showing up at your job and throwing a water bottle at your head,” Suffolk County Attorney Rachael Rollins said when charges were laid against Cole Buckley, who allegedly threw the bottle on Irving. “We have enforced civility and sportsmanship in all sports for young people, but tolerate profanity chants and a ‘shut up and dribble’ mentality for some sports and professional athletes?
There is a growing and disturbing trend in the NBA for players to be physically and verbally assaulted with profanity and openly racist statements. This behavior is totally unacceptable.
Gamers have echoed this sentiment for quite some time now.
“The fans have to grow up at some point,” Brooklyn Durant said after the bottle was thrown at Irving. “I know being at home for a year and a half with the pandemic got a lot of people on edge, a lot of people stressed out. But when you come to these games, you have to realize: these men are human. We are not animals. We are not in the circus.
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The NDAA has established partnerships with sports organizations in the past. Group president Billy West knows all about fan passion; he traveled to the state of North Carolina where he played golf and saw how noisy basketball arenas can be during the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I’m from the homeland of college basketball and I’m very passionate about it, but there’s a line that doesn’t need to be crossed,” West said. “We are not looking to sue the passionate fan who supports his team. But when it crosses the line and becomes a criminal offense, it changes the dynamic … so in order to be able to put the NBA in touch with the right people in every jurisdiction, I think it’s very important and you need that preparatory work beforehand. that an incident does not occur. . “
The ongoing pandemic has added an additional layer of complexity to the safety and behavior issue, as some arenas require fans to be vaccinated or show proof of negative tests – and the NBA, in all arenas, requires face covers for those fans in sections near the pitch, except when actively eating or drinking. Some arenas also require all fans, no matter where they are seated, to wear masks.
Spoelstra said it was okay to find the fans in their place. “It was like before, even with people watching the caucus,” he said. “It’s perfect.”