OKC Thunder: Mitchell, Sefolosha, Gobert play integral role in support of Westbrook and fan’s lifetime ban

Donovan Mitchell, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, OKC Thunder (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
Donovan Mitchell, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, OKC Thunder (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Donovan Mitchell and his teammates played an integral role in the lifetime ban of the Jazz fan who verbally abused OKC Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook.

While the best rivalry in the Western Conference arguably exists between the OKC Thunder and the Utah Jazz today this peer group set aside their differences to come to the aid of one of their own.

Being arguably the most competitive player in the NBA and the most closely associated to the ‘old school’ version of the NBA does not mean Westbrook is angst-ridden or that he treats people like an opponent off the court. In fact, every off court example shows Russ to be humble, caring, philanthropic, kind, humorous and the type of individual you would be proud to say you know.

The NBA TV Starters show passed on a report from Tony Jones of The Athletic (paid subscription) which noted the Jazz players involvement. Mitchell, Gobert, and Sefolosha led the way along with their Jazz teammates as they sat down with President Steve Starks to provide their insights. The group supported and sided with Westbrook.

Andy Larsen of the Salt Lake Tribune spoke with Rudy Gobert. The center says he’s never personally experienced or witnessed racist remarks such as those Shane Keisel hurled at Westbrook, but has felt some fans were disrespectful.

"“In my six years playing for the Jazz and in Salt Lake City, I never heard any racist comment towards me or anyone. I have heard fans being disrespectful of players, and I really don’t like that, but I haven’t heard anything racist,” Gobert told ESPN. “It’s not representative of our community. There’s bad people everywhere, and I think they just need to be held accountable, and he will be held accountable.”Still, Gobert supported Westbrook. “We have his back,” Gobert said. “As much as I like to compete against Russ — and there’s always a little trash talk between me and him — as a human being, I feel for him and I understand his reaction.”"

Former OKC Thunder teammate Thabo Sefolosha Instagram:

Can’t say I’m surprised one of my favorite former Thunder players stood up for Westbrook. Thabo Sefolosha dealt with his own version of racism while playing for the Atlanta Hawks when he was accosted by five New York police officers and falsely arrested.

In the process, his ankle ligaments were separated and his fibula (leg bone) was fractured.  GQ writer Nathaniel Penn and Sefolosha recount the events of the night. It’s a chilling read and you can’t help but feel a certain way once you discover how the whole encounter went down.

Others peers also spoke out in support of Westbrook throughout the day citing similar instances in Utah as well as other NBA arenas throughout the league. And, it’s important to note – a bushel of apples may contain a few rotten ones, but it doesn’t mean the entire barrel is full of them.

Donovan Mitchell earns standing ovation in public opinion:

But the definitive and bravest statement of the day came from the face of the Utah Jazz – Donovan Mitchell who released a statement to reporters on the incident.

The reason I say this is brave is that Mitchell is simultaneously applauding the fanbase who loves him while carefully walking the tightrope of recognizing this type of fan behavior is unacceptable (remember those two bad apples in the barrel). He’s also clearly acknowledging and supporting Westbrook and his peers.

And, while accomplishing all these divergent messages and audiences he manages to position it with a view to why the fanbase shouldn’t want this type of reputation because they want to pursue free agents. The reason this last part is so important is it encourages the “good apples” to also not accept this type of behavior.

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Although Westbrook has to pay a fine, it almost feels like he was the perfect conduit for this movement given this was the fifth such occasion Russ has had to deal with an abnormal fan situation.

As Burke points out players shouldn’t have to be subjected to endorsing or accepting commentary of this ilk. And with Mitchell spearheading efforts for this to be a widespread endeavor across the league the hope is this will become a standard practice in all NBA venues.

USA Today posted an article citing several players who supported Westbrook and among them, one was Devin Booker who noted the Jazz, Celtics, and 76ers fans are the hardest on the players. Not that surprising if you’ve caught the games OKC has played there. I would think the Bulls could also be added to that list.

"Suns guard Devin Booker named Utah, Boston and Philadelphia as places where fans are hardest on players."

Other spots where the fans are boisterous (but creative and humorous generally) are the Pacers and Bucks. The Warriors, Raptors, and Thunder just seem super supportive and loud.

And one of the best venues is MSG because Knicks fans will even cheer for opponents because they appreciate strong, quality performances.

Hat Tip to Mitchell, Gobert, Sefolosha, and Jazz:

Looking ahead, the Jazz could be the team the OKC Thunder face in the postseason. My suggestion is whether it’s this spring or sometime in the 2019-20 campaign, I suggest the Peake shower the Jazz with their own special thank you.

The next time Donovan Mitchell, Thabo Sefolosha, Rudy Gobert, and the Utah Jazz step onto the Chesapeake Energy Arena hardwood (even if it’s the playoffs) Thunder Nation should give them all a standing ovation.

Next. Westbrook altercation punctuates need for stricter fan rules. dark

What this group did today in support of Russell Westbrook was gutsy and deserves our thanks and recognition. At least until the ball is tipped, when Thunder Nation can return to booing the Jazz, cheering the Thunder and witnessing one of the best on court rivalries in the NBA.