SALT LAKE CITY — Thursday night’s game between the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves tipped off later than scheduled, but the delay was for a very good reason.
Three nights after an ugly verbal altercation between Thunder star Russell Westbrook and a Utah fan made national headlines, Jazz owner Gail Miller stood at center court to deliver a heartfelt message about civility and respect.
"I am extremely disappointed that one of our quote fans conducted himself in such a way as to offend not only a guest in our arena but also me personally, my family, our organization, the community, our players and you, as the best fans in the NBA," Miller said, pausing as a sold-out Vivint Arena erupted in applause.
"This shouldn't happen," Miller added. "We are not a racist community."
As he did last year during the playoffs when he blasted Utah for having "vulgar, disrespectful" fans, Westbrook gave a different opinion on Monday after his shouting match with Utahn Shane Keisel.
Westbrook accused Keisel of using racist language during Oklahoma City's win at Utah, and the Thunder guard was videoed cursing and threatening Keisel and his wife in response. Keisel disputes Westbrook's account.
That story went viral — along with revived accusations of Utah fans being racist and rude to visiting players. The Jazz responded to an ensuing investigation by banning Keisel from attending all events at Vivint Arena.
Hours before Miller delivered her impassioned speech to the receptive Jazz crowd, the NBA requested that all 30 teams create a PSA to emphasize "importance of respect and civility in NBA arenas."
That's precisely the message Miller powerfully delivered.
"We believe in treating people with courtesy and respect as human beings," she continued. "From time to time, individual fans exhibit poor behavior and forget their manners. Some disrespect players on other teams. When that happens, I want to jump up and shout, 'Stop!'"
Miller reminded fans of the code of conduct in the arena and warned that it will be "strictly enforced" — a message that P.A. announcer Dan Roberts repeated multiple times throughout the night.
"Everyone who comes here, visiting teams included, deserves the right and the expectation to be treated with dignity at all times," Miller said. "When incidents like Monday night happen, it not only affects the player it’s directed at, it also affects our players.
"The other teams are not our enemies. They are our competition. Competition is a good thing. It allows players to showcase their talents, and it allows fans to encourage, appreciate, cheer for and enjoy those who share their talents with us."
Miller reminded fans that her family has been "stewards of this team for 34 years," which drew more applause. While the family loves sharing the Jazz with the community and appreciates the support, she said it's also important for fans to support players who've made Utah their home.
"They have chosen to be part of our community and they make us richer with their diversity," Miller said. "My heartfelt request to all of you is that from this time forward, we all take pride in holding ourselves and those around us to the highest standard of decency.
"Use your energy cheering our team with your honest, sincere enthusiasm, rather than degrading or demeaning players on the opposing team. Nobody wins when respect goes away. Let’s be the supportive fans that our players know and deserve."
As fans and players from each team applauded, Miller thanked the crowd and, showing her respectful loyalty, enthusiastically added, "Go Jazz!"
Earlier Thursday, the USA Today posted an article that featured an interview with Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey's thoughts on this unfortunate situation. Lindsey didn't sleep after Monday's game. He also offered an apology to Thunder GM Sam Presti.
Lindsey explained how his experience growing up and a tragic moment in college helped shape how he positively feels about people from different ethnic backgrounds.
"People may say, 'Hey, whatever, what the fan said was a small thing.' Well, it's not," Lindsey said. "What it does is make everyone feel small, and every Caucasian should take a look at themselves and look at their heart."
Jazz coach Quin Snyder expressed his confidence in an improved environment and noted that behind-the-scenes moves are being made. Jazz players had a team meeting on Tuesday before traveling to Phoenix for Wednesday's game. The dialogue has been widespread, the coach added.
"I think that the important thing is how seriously everybody’s taking what happened," Snyder said during his pregame interview Thursday. "Things all evolve from there. I’m confident everybody recognizes some of those issues and how they impact particularly the players."
The Jazz organization also sent an email to season ticket holders, stressing the importance of civility from its fans, as well as the responsibility fans and the organization have in representing the Jazz and the community "in the right way." The letter warned of a zero-tolerance policy.
"We do not permit hate speech, racism, sexism or homophobia. We also do not allow disruptive behavior, including bullying, foul or abusive language, or obscene gestures. Violators may be subject to ejection and other penalties, including a lifetime ban."30 comments on this story
The letter emphasized to season ticket holders that they are accountable for whoever uses their seats — whether it's the season ticket holder or not — and that any violation of the code of conduct could result in the Jazz revoking their season tickets.
The letter also called on fans to report any behavior that breaks the code of conduct, while also showing positive support.
"We all have a responsibility to respect the game of basketball," the letter read, "and, more importantly, each other as human beings."