A fan attending Wednesday night’s NBA playoff game in Philadelphia dumped popcorn on Washington Wizards star Russell Westbrook as he left the court after injuring his right ankle, infuriating Westbrook and eliciting outrage from fellow players.
Westbrook had to be held back by multiple Wizards staffers and arena security guards as he limped down the tunnel after rolling the ankle with 10 minutes to play in the Philadelphia 76ers‘ 120-95 Game 2 victory.
The fan was ejected by security moments later.
“To be completely honest, this s— is getting out of hand, especially for me. The amount of disrespect, the amount of fans just doing whatever the f— they want to do — it’s just out of pocket,” Westbrook said. “There are certain things that cross the line. Any other setting … a guy were to come up on the street and pour popcorn on my head, you know what happens.
“In these arenas, you got to start protecting the players. We’ll see what the NBA does.”
Teammate Bradley Beal called the incident “disgusting,” and Wizards coach Scott Brooks said the individual should be banned from the league.
“Very disrespectful. Philadelphia is better than that,” Brooks said.
Valerie Camillo, president of business operations for the Wells Fargo Center, released a statement shortly after the game that read: “This was classless, unacceptable behavior, and we’re not going to tolerate it at Wells Fargo Center. We’re proud to have the most passionate fans in the country and the best home-court and home-ice advantage around, but this type of behavior has no place in our arena.”
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James addressed the situation in a Twitter post, writing, “By the way WE AS THE PLAYERS wanna see who threw that popcorn on Russ while he was leaving the game tonight with a injury!! There’s cameras all over arenas so there’s no excuse! Cause if the [shoe] was on the other [foot].”
He attached the hashtag #ProtectOurPlayers.
By the way WE AS THE PLAYERS wanna see who threw that popcorn on Russ while he was leaving the game tonight with a injury!! There’s cameras all over arenas so there’s no excuse! Cause if the was on the other . #ProtectOurPlayers
— LeBron James (@KingJames) May 27, 2021
Four years ago, a fan sitting courtside in Philadelphia was ejected for flipping off Westbrook. In 2019, a fan in Utah was banned from Vivint Smart Home Arena for life after getting into a verbal altercation with Westbrook while he was on the Oklahoma City Thunder bench.
“For me, there are a lot of incidents where fans, they say whatever, and the consequences for me are a lot more instrumental than to the fans in the stands because they feel they are untouchable,” Westbrook said. “To get food thrown on top of me, it’s just bulls—.
“Obviously, I have learned to look the other way. But to a certain extent, you can’t just keep looking the other way. There has to be some penalties or something to put in place where fans just can’t come to the games and do and say as they please.
A 76ers fan dumps popcorn on Russell Westbrook as he heads to the locker room, and the fan is ejected from the arena.
“I really take this very personal. I am tired of the same thing. To me, I don’t really see nothing changing. It just gets worse.”
Wednesday wasn’t the first time a Wizards point guard has had a run-in with a Philadelphia fan, either.
In 2019, then-Wizards guard Isaiah Thomas was ejected late in the fourth quarter of a loss at Wells Fargo Center after going into the stands and verbally confronting a fan. Thomas said the fan had “both of his middle fingers up and said, ‘F— you, b—-,’ three times.” When the Wizards called a timeout with 2:53 left, Thomas said he went into to the stands “to confront him.”
Westbrook, meanwhile, did not return to Wednesday night’s game after rolling his right ankle, which occurred when he stepped on 76ers guard Furkan Korkmaz‘s foot. Westbrook tweaked the same ankle in the third quarter while defending 76ers guard Ben Simmons in the post and fell to the court.
Westbrook struggled on the night, going 2-of-10 from the field with 10 points, 11 assists and 6 rebounds. The 76ers have a 2-0 lead in the first-round playoff series.
Westbrook’s status for Saturday’s Game 3 in Washington is to be determined.
ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk contributed to this report.