One of my least-favorite things in basketball and all sports is terrible fan behavior. From The Malice in the Palace to the racist taunts in European soccer, the horrible things shouted at players, referees, coaches, or other fans are embarrassments to society. The abuse of players now extends beyond the court to social media. Follow the replies to LeBron James on Twitter during the season or read the comments on any story in a major newspaper if you want to weep for humanity.
In an address delivered on Sunday to young Latter-day Saints, LDS leader Elder Jeffery Holland made some basketball-related comments that I think are relevant to the debate about booing former players and generally acting a fool in the arena. The remarks included a specific rebuke of LDS sports fans who “check their religion at the door.” It’s an important reminder for everyone, regardless of religious affiliation.
Elder Holland didn’t use names, but told the story of former BYU and Oklahoma State basketball player Daniel Bobik to illustrate the importance of maintaining decency, regardless of the situation. You can read background on the story and the game (which featured future Jazz player Rafael Araujo, in the performance that probably got him drafted) here and here.
A few years ago, a young friend of mine [...] was on one of the college basketball teams in the state. He was a great young man and a very good ballplayer. But he wasn’t playing as much as he’d hoped he would. His particular talents and skills simply weren’t exactly what that team needed at that stage of their development, or his. That happens in athletics. We deal with it all the time.
So with the full support and best wishes of his coaches and his teammates, my young friend transferred to another school, where he hoped he might contribute a little more.
As fate would have it, things clicked at the new school and my friend soon became a starter. And wouldn’t you know it, the schedule–determined years before these events transpired–had this young man returning to play against his former team, in Salt Lake City in the then-named Delta Center.
What happened in that game has bothered me to this day and I am seizing this unusual moment to get it off my chest. [laughter]
The vitriolic abuse that poured out of the stands on this young man’s head that night [...] what was said, and done, and showered upon him and his wife and his parents, should not have been experienced by any human being anywhere at any time–whatever the sport, whatever the university, or whatever his personal decisions had been about either of them.
But here’s the worst part. The coach of that visiting team–something of a legend in the profession, actually–turned to him after a spectacular game, and said “What is going on here? You’re the hometown boy who’s made good. These are your people. These are your friends,” he said.
But worst of all, he then said, in total bewilderment, “Aren’t most of these people members of your church?”
The day after that game, when there was some public reckoning and call to repentance over the incident, one young man said, in effect, “Listen, we’re talking about basketball here–not Sunday School. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. We pay good money to see these games. We can act the way we want. We check our religion at the door.”
We check our religion at the door?
We should NEVER check our religion at the door.
No, someone in life, someone in all these situations has to live his or her religion. It’s easy to be righteous when things are calm and life is good and everything is smooth. [...]
When there is pressure and fatigue. Anger or fear. [...] Will we be faithful then?
With the upcoming season looming, I’d like to throw my support behind those who want to reverse the terrible trend of booing former Jazz players when they return to the ESA. “Once a Jazzman, Always a Jazzman” should be the new tradition. Here’s part of the open letter to Greg Miller as posted at SLC Dunk:
[Player gets introduced and thanked for their time with the Jazz]
And that’s that.
And from then on, every other time he visits, he gets the same general acknowledgement and applause given to all former players.
There will still be some boos, of course. But the more you do it, the more it will feel natural, until it’s simply tradition. It will feel like just a special part of “The Jazz Way.” It will also get attention. Players on other teams will notice. Our players will notice.
And if you try to start this early, if you establish the pattern from the first pre-season game … maybe then that January 2nd game against Andrei Kirilenko and the Timberwolves won’t be the horrible moment I now anticipate.