Tony Massenburg: Westbrook popcorn incident shows ‘level of disrespect’ by fans

Westbrook popcorn incident shows 'level of disrespect' from fans originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The 76ers dominated the Wizards in Game 2 of the opening round of the NBA Playoffs on Wednesday night, but the action on the floor was overshadowed after one Philadelphia fan dumped popcorn on injured Washington star Russell Westbrook as he entered the tunnel exiting the floor.

Understandably, Westbrook was irate postgame, saying no fan would do such if they saw him in the street. The incident also sparked several players around the league, including LeBron James, to go on social media to express their displeasure with the fan.

Speaking on the Sports Junkies one day later, former NBA player and current NBC Sports Washington analyst Tony Massenburg said the popcorn incident is the latest example of fans showing disrespect to NBA players.

“There’s a level of disrespect that I think has been associated with the way some fans treat NBA players,” Massenburg said. “It’s almost like they think they paid their money, that they can come and do whatever they want.

“If you go to the zoo and you stop and get peanuts or popcorn for your kids, well, you can’t go to the zoo and throw popcorn and the peanuts at the animals,” Massenburg continued. “And this is livestock! We’re talking about human beings.”

Massenburg also agreed with what Westbrook said postgame and what James tweeted about, that no fan would do such an action if they same the player outside the arena.

“So, you look at the behavior of some of these fans — and Russ said this last night — that fan that dumped that bucket of popcorn on him if he saw Russell Westbrook on the street, would he run up to Russell Westbrook and throw popcorn at his face or dump a beer on him? That’s what the majority of players say,” Massenburg said.

This isn’t the first time Westbrook has had an issue with Sixers fans, either. In 2017, video surfaced of one fan giving him the middle finger mid-game. Westbrook has also had issues with fans in other arenas, too.

“With Westbrook in particular, he’s a guy who opposing fans seem to sometimes have a huge issue with,” Massenburg said. “He’s a guy who’s had issues with the fans in Utah dating back to when he was in Oklahoma. He had a run-in with a Philadelphia fan I believe last year. This year, it’s the same deal.”

In recent years, especially after the Malice at the Palace brawl in 2004, we have seen few examples of players retaliating against fans outside of verbal confrontations. The NBA has done its best to crack down on such and has fined players multiple times for going slightly overboard when it comes to interacting with fans.

This, though, according to Massenburg, has led to fans becoming more aggressive over the years and led to incidents like Wednesday nights.

“I’ve definitely seen fans get more aggressive,” Massenburg said. “In certain arenas, fans are sometimes a little more involved than you would like. They get a little more personal than you would like.”

In general, Massenburg is in favor of fan interaction — just not with disrespectful acts. The Westbrook incident crossed the line.

“We are all for fan interaction and we don’t mind going back and forth, sometimes verbal exchanges with fans, even if it gets a little heated,” Massenburg said. “Because we understand fans come to a game because they are passionate about their team.”

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