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Sunday night during game three of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, Joakim Noah had a verbal altercation with a fan resulting in a $50,000 fine. Noah promptly apologized for the derogatory anti-gay term he used in response to a fan showering insults about Noah’s mother among other things. Some of the players said the fan was intoxicated, but he was never removed from the game.
This was just another instance in the NBA that sparks discussion on several topics. Should security be increased around the benches? Should ushers warn fans around the benches when they are getting out of control? Do arenas need to limit alcohol sales?
Now these are all areas that the NBA needs to make sure they are doing a good job in handling, but the true responsibility lies with the fans. Paying top-dollar for a seat right behind the bench does not buy you the right to act like an idiot. It is sad when one or a few moronic fans ruin things for all the other fans that do a great job rooting for their teams. This is no good-natured Spike Lee Reggie Miller spout. This is just plain harassment and it needs to end.
Taunting is of course a part of the game, and it can be a fun and exciting part of the game that drives players to play harder. More trash-talking takes place on the floor than cameras are able to capture. Every now and then you can read their lips, but most goes unheard by the fans. In the crowd there is also rumblings and chants targeting players but that is part of playing in a hostile environment, and these fans aren’t in the players’ faces they are simply creating a home-court advantage.
The NBA is different than any of the other major sports in America. There is very little separating the fans from the players, often nothing at all. There are seats on the edge of the floor, behind the benches and under the baskets. There is no distance, and fans can be right in the faces of players, verbally abusing and harassing them during the course of a highly emotional game. Sports like the NFL have the fans far removed from the players, and baseball has walls, foul areas, and covered dugouts. The NHL even has glass separating fans from the playing ice.
This incident brings The Malice in the Palace back to life, although in a much smaller scale. This happened between the Pacers and the Pistons November 19, 2004 at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Two notable players, Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson ended up in the crowd going toe to toe with fans. Five players were eventually charged with assault and five fans faced criminal charges and were banned from attending Pistons games for life.
How much is too much?
This article is not meant to excuse Noah of his actions, and he never should have confronted the fan in the first place, but it brings to light a responsibility that lies with the fans. Fans please be responsible when you attend games. Sporting events are meant to be fun, to be an escape from everyday life. Being a fan is about having passion, but when you cross the line it becomes something else, ruining the game and the reputations of fans.