The Utah Jazz announced that three fans were being banned following a “verbal altercation” in Game 1 of the team’s playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies, but didn’t expand on what happened. Now, Ja Morant’s family is speaking up, explaining the vile racism and abuse they experienced at Vivint Arena, which went far beyond a “verbal altercation.”
In an interview with ESPN, Tee Morant explained that his family experienced despicable racism while watching his son play. At one point a fan told him “I’ll put a nickel in your back and watch you dance, boy,” while another made sexually explicit remarks to Jamie Morant, Ja’s mother, while also saying “Shut the f*** up, b****.”
Tee detailed how he understands trash talk, he’s been around basketball for years — but that these remarks clearly crossed the line. Tee did say that a lot of the well intentioned fans around the Morant family, many of whom were having a fun back-and-forth with the family throughout the game, stood up for them when approached by the racist fans, even notifying security about the incident.
Three fans yelling despicable, racist remarks at the Morant family is certainly horrible — but the Jazz’s tepid response failed to address the issue, almost as if they were trying to sweep the incident under the rug.
“The Utah Jazz have zero tolerance for offensive or disruptive behavior,” the Jazz said in a statement Thursday. “An incident occurred last night involving a verbal altercation during Game 2. Arena security staff intervened, and the investigation resulted in the removal and banning of three Jazz fans indefinitely.
“We apologize to all who were impacted by this unfortunate incident and condemn unacceptable fan behavior.”
Reducing racism to a “verbal altercation” or calling mocking a black family for their skin color “offensive or disruptive behavior” is the kind of PR speak that doesn’t nearly go far enough to actually address the issue. It’s a designed technique that makes the incident sound like a drunk fan yelling, not a group of three racists confronting a family.
The popcorn incident was disrespectful and ban-worthy in its own right, but not nearly as pointed and reprehensible as racism. Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell had a stronger response than the team.
I’m glad those fans were banned and they should never be allowed back…. this is ridiculous!!! The fact that these words are being thrown around to players and there families is ridiculous! Enough is enough smh! https://t.co/rfzj0T1W1r
— Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) May 28, 2021
As did Dwyane Wade, who bought an ownership stake in the team earlier this year.
If we turn our backs on this kind of behavior we’re all apart of the problem. This will not be tolerated! Apologies once again to Ja and his family https://t.co/uG9QSS5ZIF
— DWade (@DwyaneWade) May 28, 2021
If a player from the team is making a stronger stand against this incident than the team itself, it’s a clear sign not enough was done. Jazz owner Ryan Smith said he was embarrassed by the incident, and apologized to the Morant family — but this came after the ESPN story was published.
Ja Morant was cautious to point blame where it was deserved. He did not lump all Jazz fans together, and shined a light on those who treated his family with love, even while the two teams were competing.
my family told me they felt the love from all the other jazz fans who were around them even bought each other drinks with a few.
those 3 just went too far https://t.co/1XvjXcPVOo
— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) May 28, 2021
Kudos to the Morant family for their grace during a disgusting situation, and the other Jazz fans who stepped up and defended them against the racists. However, the team should have done better from the jump in addressing the issue honestly, and not hiding behind alternate language. If teams can’t consistently address racism from fans in a way that acceptably stops it from happening in arenas, then the NBA should step in and apply guidelines for teams to follow when these incidents are reported and verified.