Why NBA players are the least protected athletes in sports.

          Yesterday, Russell Westbrook was involved in an incident involving two fans during the Thunder’s 98-89 win vs the Jazz in Utah. Westbrook was caught on camera telling two fans “I’ll f–k you up” after the fans had allegedly told Westbrook to “get in your knees like you’re used too”. After the game both the fans and Westbrook shared their side of the story with the media. The fan claimed that he was joking with Westbrook, and then it escalated when one of them told him to “Ice his knees”. Since the altercation, Shane Keisel and his wife Jennifer Huff were both banned from Jazz games forever by the team and Westbrook has received a 25,000 dollar fine for his actions.

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Image: Russell Westbrook yelling at two fans during game vs Utah / PC: LA Times

          This is not the first time Westbrook has had an altercation with a fan. During the 2018 playoffs, Westbrook had two separate instances where fans were shouting obscenities at Westbrook prompting him to react to what was said. During the first incident he got into the fans face and yelled at him at the end of halftime. Later, after the Jazz had won the game and ended the Thunders’ season, Westbrook slapped a fans phone who was recording a video right in the face of Westbrook.

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Image: Westbrook in an altercation with fan in Utah during 2018 playoffs / PC: Youtube

          There have also been two incidents in Denver recently where Westbrook got into it with fans. The first came in February of 2018 when a fan came onto the court and got in Westbrooks face. Westbrook in turn shoved the fan back and security escorted the man out of the building. This past year, Westbrook was grabbed by a young boy sitting court side with his family. Westbrook turned around and talked to the fan asking him to please not touch him or his teammates anymore.

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Image: Westbrook shoves fan who approaches him on the court after game in Denver in 2018 / PC: Business insider

          The way I see it, there is an issue that needs to be addressed. The issue is that NBA players are not as protected as other athletes. If you look at every other sport, there are barriers put in place to not only protect the fans from the action, but also to protect players from the fans. In baseball, netting has been placed around the field level seats. In football, you have to sit at least 30 feet away from the players benches with security guarding the field, and the same goes for soccer. The NHL has glass surrounding the benches and ice. The NBA is the only sports league that allows fans such close access to their players.

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Image: Steph Curry celebrates with fans after hitting a shot in the playoffs / PC: The sportster.com

          If the league wanted to side with their players, then they would be forced to remove court side seats from the arena and keep more security around the benches. This would allow players to feel more of a sense of safety and would allow them to focus more on the game. While fans would be taken away from being in the center of the action, the players would be less likely to want to get involved with fans in the arena and hopefully cut back on the amount of incidents involving players and fans.

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Image: Shot of the Spurs on the bench during game in LA / PC: airalamo.com

          One of the biggest reasons why I don’t see the NBA going away from court side seats is the money they bring in. On average, court side seats can run anywhere from $1,000 – $3,000 a seat, but on average it is about $1,700 per seat. Multiply that by 300 ( number of seats available per game) and then by 41 (number of NBA home games) and it comes out to $20.9 million per season per team just in court side sales. When you multiply that number by 32 teams, the NBA as a whole makes approximately $627 million a year from selling court side seats. That’s just for the regular season. In the playoffs, these prices are driven up even more and more people want to come when their teams are in the playoffs.  So from a business standpoint, it would be extremely costly for the NBA to remove court side seats.

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Image: List of most valuable NBA franchises in 2019 / PC: Statista

          The NBA, its commissioner, and its owners are now faced with a tough decision. Do they remove court side seats to help improve the relationship between them and their players and sacrifice about 10% of their yearly revenue, or do they keep the seats and just tell players to deal with it. Wether you are for or against the argument, there is no debating that this will be a topic discussed between the league and its players for years to come.

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Image: Adam Silver at the podium during the 2018 Finals / PC: USA Today

          Do you think the NBA should ban court side seats? Do you think players are out of line? Leave a comment and let me know who’s side you are on, and as always thanks for reading!

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