Last night the Washington Wizards played the Philadelphia 76ers in Philadelphia. Wizards star Russell Westbrook injured an ankle with about ten minutes left in the game (which the Sixers won 120–95). As he was being escorted to the locker room so he could get his injury evaluated, a 76ers fan dumped some popcorn on Westbrook’s head.
Westbrook was, understandably, a bit upset after this happened, and this article will serve as an analysis of the entire incident.
Russ the Man
I want to be up front that I am a Dallas Mavericks fan through and through. That said, I enjoy watching many other teams and players play, and I consider myself an objective judge of skill and right and wrong. I will also say this: I feel like I might be the only non-Wizards fan who genuinely likes Russell Westbrook. I liked him when he played for the Oklahoma City Thunder, I liked him when he played for the Houston Rockets, and I like him now. He’s listed at 6’3″ but is a triple-double machine, and even though I don’t always care for how he handles every situation, I just love watching him compete.
There’s a bit of John Starks or Gary Payton or even Allen Iverson about him. He’s undersized, tough as nails, and skilled. He’s also mean. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I would want to piss off any professional athlete because their physical superiority over the rest of us mere mortals is absurd. This is a guy who is 6’3″ but can dunk a ball with ease, is fast, and is strong. In a playoff game is also going to be jacked up with adrenaline, especially after hurting an ankle while his team is getting it’s collective ass kicked.
So I have to ask myself: Would you ever pour popcorn on Russell Westbrook? And the answer is no, unless for some strange reason he asked me to. Just listen to his interview about the event (warning, a couple instances of NSFW language).
I mean, talking about how his reaction would be “different” if something like this had happened in a different venue, such as a street? I believe him. There are a lot of guys who would talk tough but would ultimately be complete crybabies about it (cough cough LeBron James cough cough). That said, I believe that if Russ was accosted on the street, he’d start throwing punches and ask questions later.
And did you see his guys holding him back, trying to prevent another Malice at the Palace situation? That’s an angry dude who is probably well below the average height and weight of an NBA player and it’s still taking a platoon of men to keep him from retaliating.
The Fan the Man
Then there’s the guy who dumped the popcorn. Philly guy, probably one of those guys who argues about his constitutional rights being violated when the Payday Loan place makes him wear a mask to get an advance against his cheesesteak cart salary. Philly fans are some of the most obnoxious around, especially come playoffs. Trust me. Growing up in Dallas and seeing how Eagles fans behave when they’re in town to play the Cowboys was always fun in the same way watching zoo animals try to do puzzles is fun.
But seriously. The average height and weight of an adult man in the United States is 5’9″, 197 pounds. Russ is 6’3″, 200. And because the US is a rotund nation in general, I’m willing to bet that 197 is not a trim 197. But the guy who dumped the popcorn looked thin, and maybe he played basketball because he’s a fan who went to a 76ers playoff game. But still. Are you trying to match physical prowess with a guy who literally gets paid to be an athletic freak? That’s like heckling a doctor who is performing surgery just because you have seen every episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Unreal levels of stupidity.
I don’t know the name of the person who dumped the popcorn, so I’m just going to call him “Kyle” because he seems like his name might be Kyle.
What was Kyle’s endgame here? What was he trying to accomplish? Was he trying to mentally check Russ out of the game? That probably was unnecessary seeing as how Russ was being led off the floor because he was injured and the Wizards were getting spanked. Was he trying to begin a physical confrontation with Russell Westbrook? Probably not unless he has a death wish or perhaps is a few fries short of a Happy Meal, mentally speaking. Was he trying to get the crowd into it? Maybe, but there weren’t all that many fans there, and the fact that everyone immediately ratted him out to security when they were trying to find out who dumped the popcorn tells me that it probably wasn’t his motivation, but that if it was it was wildly miscalculated.
It would have been great if Russ decided to have a little snack like when he played for the Thunder. But it’s not sanitary, especially in the Age of Covid, and especially for popcorn dumped by a random idiot onto a floor that has been trod on by hundreds of people over the course of several hours. Still, it would have been funny. But Russ isn’t a funny guy, and it’s not his burden to make light of the situation. Russ is an angry guy who had every right to be angry, and how he channels that anger is his onus and his cross to bear alone.
This is a question I ask myself about someone’s decision making (occasionally even my own) almost every day. And I’ve never gotten an answer, or at least not a satisfactory one. But that’s what I want to know. Kyle: Why, dude? Why do that? I just don’t get it. And I won’t use the “how would you like it if someone came to the bar where you’re probably a bouncer and dumped popcorn on you” argument because: A) it’s not relevant because the comeback is always that the victim (i.e. Russ) is a public figure and Kyle is not; and B) because Kyle likely works in Philly there’s a decent chance someone has just randomly thrown food on him before.
But it’s just so stupid. I doubt anyone in the past 25 or 30 years has poured something onto a professional athlete and felt good about it. I mean, I would hope that Kyle is ashamed and embarrassed right now. I hope he woke up this morning and as he was making sure his Cheez Whiz cans were all pressurized had a pang of shame shoot up his spine and for just a moment he wished he had a DeLorean so he could go back to last night and not pour that popcorn. And what if the guy who owns the cheesesteak cart where Kyle works fires him? Then Kyle’s actions will have more resounding personal impacts for him. How will he afford all of the second-hand Ed Hardy stuff he assuredly wears daily? How will he be able to pay for dry cleaning his vintage Keith Van Horn jersey that he wears to formal occasions? What will it take for Kyle to understand how unbelievably stupid he was last night.
Here are my final thoughts: It’s next-level stupid to do what Kyle did. The Old Testament part of me kind of wants to see the NBA make a rule saying if a fan pours something on a player, the player is allowed to go into the stands and pummel that fan. But then again, the New Testament part of me thinks preventing what would assuredly result in death and destruction is the more noble thing. Whatever the result, I just can’t understand why someone would think it is a good idea to pour stuff on the head of a professional athlete (or anyone, but out in the real world there might be a legit reason, whereas at a sporting event there is literally never a reason to accost a player who is just walking off an injury). I hope Kyle learns and evolves. And now I kind of hope the Wizards win the series.