SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah Jazz fan is suing for $100 million after being banned for life from the team’s arena over what were called racial taunts directed at point guard Russell Westbrook during a game.
Shane Keisel said there was nothing racial about his heckling during the game in March and that the high-profile incident has cost him his job and exposed him to online threats, according to the suit filed Monday in a state court in Utah.
The Jazz, however, said the team investigated the episode that ignited a national conversation about race and fan behavior and stands by the decision to bar him from the arena. The organization will “vigorously defend” itself from the lawsuit, said Frank Zang, senior vice president of communications for the Jazz parent company, Larry H. Miller Sports and Entertainment.
Westbrook was fined $25,000 by the NBA after video surfaced of him directing vulgar comments at Keisel in the crowd. Then a point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder who had had other in-game exchanges with fans, Westbrook was shown along the sideline using threatening language that also referred to Keisel’s girlfriend, who was at the game.
Westbrook said at the time that he had been provoked by the fan who told him to “get down on your knees like you used to.”
Westbrook said he would never abuse a woman, but that Keisel’s racial taunts went over the line, especially after past disrespectful comments from other Utah fans. His stance was backed by Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, who said it wasn’t the first time a racially motivated event occurred at a Jazz game.
The Jazz banned Keisel the day after the game, saying there is no room for personal attacks or disrespect.
In the lawsuit, Keisel acknowledged heckling Westbrook and telling him in a mocking way to “take care of his knees” because the point guard had them wrapped in towels while he sat on the bench. But he denies making the comment that Westbrook said he did.
Keisel is seeking a public apology, $68 million in damages for himself and $32 million for his girlfriend, who was with him. He sued the Utah Jazz and Westbrook, who now plays for the Houston Rockets.
A representative for Westbrook could not immediately be reached for comment early Tuesday,
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports