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ATLANTA – In the course of celebrating the gradual return of normalcy, we forget that normal isn’t always wonderful. Normal is normal. It has its good things and its bad things. It has splendid highs backed with occasional lows. That’s normal, right? The good with the bad.
The good: Sports is back to sounding like sports and looking like sports and feeling like sports, and that’s because after a year of empty and near-empty arenas and rinks and ballparks and stadiums, fans are once again part of the sporting tapestry.
The bad: Sports is back to sounding like sports and looking like sports and feeling like sports, and that’s because after a year of empty and near-empty arenas and rinks and ballparks and stadiums, fans are once again part of the sporting tapestry.
Now, look: That’s mostly good. There’s no way you could have been inside Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center or Nassau Coliseum this week and not felt good, awfully good, hearing engaged crowds getting into it and after it again. There’s no way you could’ve seen the gallery all but carry Phil Mickelson off the Kiawah Island course at the PGA and not have chills race up and down your spine.
But there is, as always, a flip side to this.
There was Brooks Koepka, coming off a knee procedure, feeling more than a little uncomfortable as the out-of-control gallery surged around him and Mickelson, his playing partner at the PGA.
“Yeah, it would have been cool if I didn’t have a knee injury,” Koepka fumed afterward to ESPN. “Got dinged a few times in the knee in that crowd because no one really gave a [bleep], personally. But if I was fine, yeah, it would have been cool. It’s cool for Phil. But getting dinged a few times isn’t exactly my idea of fun.”
Then the NBA playoffs began. In Philadelphia, Wizards star Russell Westbrook had a tub of popcorn dumped on him as he left the floor after injuring his ankle.
“To be blatantly honest, man, this [bleep] is getting out of hand, especially for me,” Westbrook said afterward. “The amount of disrespect, the amount of fans just doing whatever the [bleep] they want to do, it’s just out of pocket, man. Seriously.”
In Salt Lake City, three Jazz fans were involved in ugly “verbal” altercations with Memphis star Ja Morant’s parents, Tee and Jamie. Tee detailed one: “I’ll put a nickel in your back and watch you dance, boy.”
And, of course, closer to home, Knicks fans chose to take a vulgar path rather than a clever one in chanting at Hawks star Trae Young during Games 1 and 2, and then an especially imbecilic ticket holder chose to punctuate that barrage with a glob of spit.
All of the basketball fans were dealt with, and harshly, banned from those venues. The PGA apologized to Koepka (and Mickelson) for allowing such a brazen security lapse.
And it begs the question: What’s next? The Knicks, you would imagine, are braced for return fire (though hopefully no rebuttal spittle) from Hawks fans when they play Friday in Game 3 Friday and Sunday in Game 4 at State Farm Arena. Knicks star Julius Randle, for one, was pointed in his remarks about what happened Wednesday night at the Garden.
“I don’t care if it’s our home crowd or not, there’s no place for that,” Randle said. “We’ve got to protect the players. That’s disrespectful. Yeah, it’s our fans and I love our fans, but you see a guy on the street, you wouldn’t spit on him.
“I don’t care what arena it’s in, whose fan base it is, there’s absolutely no place for disrespecting anybody in any capacity and especially spitting on him. That’s just ridiculous.”
There are always bad apples. There are always bad seeds. There are always a couple of outliers who try to make the fans who simply want to roar and shout and have a hell of a time at sporting events look as bad as they are. Such is normal. Normal is normal. The good and the bad.
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