Home-court advantage to us means having the most passionate fan base in the NBA, which we believe we do. We have loud fans. But home-court advantage also means being respectful and positive and not disrespecting opponents or other fans with bad behavior. —Jazz president Steve Starks
SALT LAKE CITY — When the Houston Rockets visit Vivint Arena Friday night, Utah Jazz officials are expecting a few things from a fan base that’s been in the public spotlight this postseason.
The good reasons: They’re extremely loud and proud.
The not-so-good reasons: Some have been accused of being vulgar and disrespectful.
No doubt, the 18,300 fans will be passionate, cheer vociferously and scream during Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals. Some will make supportive and humorous posters. Many will be decked out in Jazz gear, including the popular City Edition uniform colors the team will sport.
A few of the Utah faithful will likely even have a thing or two to say to James Harden, Chris Paul & Co.
As the Jazz eagerly anticipate, the noisy ambiance is certain to give Utah's surprising squad a home-court advantage against the 65-win Rockets, who have to be stunned the series is tied 1-1 as it shifts to the Wasatch Front.
“The Miller family has owned the Utah Jazz for 33 years,” Jazz owner Gail Miller said in a statement, “and we believe our fans have been among the best in the NBA. They are loyal, loud, passionate and full of enthusiasm for their team.”
The Jazz believe that more than ever — even in the aftermath of allegations of distasteful behavior Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook made after Utah eliminated the Thunder in the first round.
Westbrook had two separate confrontations with Jazz fans en route to the locker room in Game 6 last Friday. He vented about some Utah spectators’ alleged boorish behavior in the postgame press conference.
Westbrook’s rant revived the notion some have that Jazz fans occasionally go too far. That perception might’ve been further engrained in some people’s minds Wednesday when Harden had a confrontation with a fan wearing a Jazz jersey in Houston. The man called Harden a flopper and held his phone out toward the MVP candidate as he entered the arena. Harden responded by slapping the phone.
It was reminiscent of Westbrook's interaction a week earlier in Utah.
"Here in Utah, man, a lot of disrespectful, vulgar things are said to the players with these fans. It's truly disrespectful,” Westbrook said. “They talk about your family, about your kids, and it’s just a disrespect to the game and I think it’s something that needs to be brought up.
"I’m tired of just going out and playing and then the fans say what the hell they want to say. I’m not with that, because if I was just on the street they wouldn’t say anything crazy because I don’t play that (expletive). I think it’s disrespectful they get the chance to do whatever they want to do. It needs to be put to a stop, especially here in Utah.”
Working with the NBA over the years, the Jazz have taken steps to provide a safe and enjoyable atmosphere for spectators and players alike. A text line allows fans to report unruly, disturbing or dangerous behavior. The team has a large staff of guest-service employees and security officers available to intervene if things get out of hand or are headed there. The arena is equipped with security cameras that give a view of every seat. The team also shows a code of conduct video before tipoff.
That pregame video is the only thing that will be changed from the last game. The Jazz have recorded pro-sportsmanship sound bites from coach Quin Snyder and multiple players that will be played with the minute-long video.
"Unfortunately, there is an occasional incident by an overly exuberant fan during a hotly contested game that is inappropriate and does not represent the majority of fans in our arena," Miller said. "From the beginning, our family has expected our Jazz fans to cheer loudly for our team while respecting our opponent. This is still true today. We expect our organization, our players, our fans and our family to be good representatives of the Utah Jazz because everyone deserves the opportunity to enjoy the game in a positive, inclusive and safe environment."
Jazz president Steve Starks said the organization would like the help of fans to keep the environment a fun, family-friendly and safe place to enjoy NBA playoff action. The Jazz don’t want to lose the reputed vocal support of their loyal fans, so they're not asking anyone to turn down the volume. But they also hope the high emotions of an intense playoff game won't lead to fans taking away from the respect and enjoyment levels in an arena designed to have fans as close to the players and action as anywhere in the NBA.
“Home-court advantage to us means having the most passionate fan base in the NBA, which we believe we do. We have loud fans,” Starks said. “But home-court advantage also means being respectful and positive and not disrespecting opponents or other fans with bad behavior.
"In any cross-section of humanity, when you get 18,000, 19,000 fans together, there are going to be a few who cross the line. We strongly encourage fans to be aware," Starks continued. "It’s a very small part of the fan base. It happens very infrequently, but it’s something that we take seriously. We feel a responsibility to lead by example and not to tolerate behavior that is disrespectful or degrading to other opponents or other fans."
The Jazz have not been contacted by the league about fans’ behavior, which the organization believes is similar to other venues aside from perhaps the decibel levels.
“We’re not atypical. The NBA would call us if they felt there was a problem in Salt Lake," Starks said. "The NBA has a code of conduct for all the teams in the league and we fall within it. Salt Lake has an incredible fan base and passionate fans and a loud arena. There's no indication that we have a reputation for anything other (than that)."
The Jazz take pride on having an arena that brings people from all walks of life, all religious and ethnic backgrounds, all college loyalties and all ages, shapes and sizes to cheer for Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors et al.
"We pride ourselves on the arena being a gathering place for everybody to come to and it really unites our community," Starks said.
Starks has been to other NBA arenas where there was fun banter back and forth between fans and the Jazz. He's also experienced having things yelled at Jazz players "that you wouldn't want your mother or children to hear." In other words, fans can be fans — fun and obnoxious — anywhere you go.
"In Utah," Starks added, "we set a tone where it's always fun and family-friendly, and it's passionate. ... The players feed off of that and it's fun for everybody."