The Malice at the Palace happened 15 years ago and thankfully nothing like that has happened since. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t ever happen again. There’s only a thin painted line separating fans from players and for the overwhelming majority of the time, that’s a fun, positive thing for the sport. Every once in a while it creates a negative and potentially dangerous environment.
Friday night in Denver there was an incident where Marcus Smart went into the stands after a ball and was subject to some very inappropriate (at best) comments.
Here’s the full quote from Marcus via NBC Boston
“My foot got stuck in a chair and a fan told me, ‘That’s right, stay on the ground, get on your knees,’” said Smart. “Excuse me? You know what I’m saying. I just told him, ‘Listen, just watch the game,’ because, if we retaliate to you guys, or we were on the street, you probably wouldn’t say that.
”I guarantee you wouldn’t say that because we’re grown men just like you. I told the security, they didn’t do anything about it. Just gotta move on. But that’s a problem in the league that we gotta fix because, if we retaliate to protect ourselves, we’re the ones getting in trouble. They’re not. And that’s not right.”
He later elaborated saying:
“Like I said, we’re going to end up protecting ourselves eventually and it’s not going to be pretty for the fan and we don’t want that. The league doesn’t want that, we don’t want that as players, but at some point you gotta stand up and you gotta protect yourself as a man.”
It is worth noting here that Smart had an incident in college where he shoved a fan that was making racist comments to him. So he’s well aware of the emotions and consequences of situations like this.
Clearly there are moments where it is completely understandable for someone to react negatively toward hurtful and inappropriate things being said to them. However, as Marcus notes, there’s a point where that reaction could be dangerous for all parties and bad for everyone involved.
It seems like Smart’s message is being directed as a general warning to the league to ensure that the players are protected so things don’t turn ugly. The league has to balance that against ensuring paying fans are allowed a positive in-game experience. That is the challenge and one the league should always strive to keep in proper balance.
The last thin anyone wants to see is a repeat of what happened 15 years ago.