After another exciting evening of NBA playoff action, the biggest piece of news on Thursday morning wasn't about a specific play, but was instead about a moment during one of the games that didn't involve basketball at all.
Russell Westbrook of the Washington Wizards had popcorn dumped on him by a Philadelphia 76ers fan while he was walking through the tunnel in the 4th quarter of Game 2. Westbrook had injured his ankle and was headed to the locker room when it happened, but had to be held back by multiple team staffers and security personnel.
Westbrook didn't end up getting to confront the fan, who was ejected from the Wells Fargo Center, but he was obviously and understandably unhappy after the game.
“This s*** is out of hand," Westbrook said. ... "I wouldn’t come up to me on the street and throw popcorn on my head, because you know what happens. ... In these arenas, you gotta start protecting the players. We’ll see what the NBA does."
LeBron James, other players support Westbrook
Westbrook wasn't the only one unhappy about the incident. Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James tweeted his support for Westbrook and included the hashtag #ProtectOurPlayers.
Westbrook's teammate Daniel Gafford backed up LeBron's comments.
Recently retired WNBA player Renee Montgomery, who is now part-owner and vice president of the Atlanta Dream, also tweeted about the incident, and so did Cameron Reynolds of the Houston Rockets and Chimezie Metu of the Sacramento Kings.
Metta Sandiford-Artest understands Westbrook's anger
One person who definitely knows how Westbrook is feeling is Metta Sandiford-Artest. He was known as Ron Artest in 2004 when he earned an 86-game suspension for charging into the stands and punching a fan who had thrown a drink at him. "Malice at the Palace" remains one of the most infamous brawls in NBA history, and Sandiford-Artest told USA Today that he was definitely thinking about that while he was watching the popcorn incident unfold.
"I felt like I was going to run into the stands," Sandiford-Artest said on Wednesday night. "It shook me up a little bit."
He was glad that the Wells Fargo Center had security around to essentially save Westbrook from himself.
"How do you throw popcorn on a player?" Sandiford-Artest said. "Westbrook was pissed, and he had the right to be pissed. But I’m so happy that he was around people. Security was incredible."
For Sandiford-Artest, fans throwing concessions is more about respect than it is about any possible danger — especially in Westbrook's case.
"Popcorn doesn’t hurt, but that’s really disrespectful. The problem is an athlete at that point in time is focused on the game," Sandiford-Artest said.
"You can’t throw stuff when you’re watching people perform. You can’t throw stuff at anybody. It doesn’t matter where you’re at."
Sandiford-Artest said that now he's on good terms with the fan he punched, but he knows that kind of relationship can only start with an apology.
"That guy needs to go on national TV and apologize to Westbrook," Sandiford-Artest said. "I wouldn’t take away his tickets, to tell you the truth. Have his ass come to arena. He needs to apologize."
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