Banned Fan Files $100M Defamation Lawsuit Against Utah Jazz, Russell Westbrook
Dec 16, 2019, 8:54 PM | Updated: 9:14 pm
(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A Utah man has filed a lawsuit against the Utah Jazz and Russell Westbrook after the team banned him for life from Vivint Smart Home Arena following an alleged racial exchange between the fan Westbrook during an NBA game on March 11, 2019, between the Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Shane Keisel filed the suit in Utah’s 4th Judicial District Court and is seeking up to $100 million in damages for him and his girlfriend Jennifer Huff, according to court documents obtained on Monday.
Keisel alleges in the lawsuit that he was fired from his job and cut from a program designed to help people become pilots for SkyWest Airlines because of the incident.
Jazz Senior Vice President of Communications Frank Zang responded to the lawsuit saying, “We believe there is no legal or factual basis for these claims against the Utah Jazz. The organization investigated the underlying incident and acted in an appropriate and responsible manner. We intend to vigorously defend the lawsuit.”
Video of Westbook engaging with Keisel emerged earlier this year and quickly went viral.
Keisel said he was attending the game with Huff and engaged in some heckling, which he said was common for fans that sit close to the court.
According to court documents, Keisel said he noted towels on Westbrook’s knees and told the player he should sit down and ice his knees.
Keisel said Westbrook responded that the towels were for heating his knees and Keisel told Westbrook he’d be using his knees “extensively later in the game.”
Video showed Westbrook’s response, which included vulgar and profane language directed at Keisel, according to court documents.
I'm not sure what provoked this response from Russell Westbrook but the league office won't be happy about his response. Russ had an incident with a Jazz fan during the playoffs last season. @KSL5TV @kslsports #nba pic.twitter.com/7sq94tBBIe
— Jeremiah Jensen (@JJSportsBeat) March 12, 2019
According to the video, Westbrook voiced his displeasure with the fan to a person off-camera, peppering in plenty of expletives. He then turned to address Keisel, who was also off-camera, and “promised” to inflict harm on the fan and his wife.
After the game, Westbrook addressed the incident at a press conference.
According to court documents, Westbrook said, “The realization of it is, how it started was, a young man and his wife in the stands told me ‘to get down on my knees like you used to.’”
Keisel said in the lawsuit he never used any vulgar or racist language and witnesses said they didn’t hear any racist language from Keisel or Huff.
Other fans in the area “said it was nonsensical” after security issued Keisel a warning card for being disruptive, according to court documents.
The Utah Jazz permanently banned Keisel from all events at Vivint Smart Home Arena the following day and Westbrook was fined $25,000 by the NBA for his retaliation.
“The organization conducted an investigation through video review and eyewitness accounts,” the team said in a statement. “The ban is based on excessive and derogatory verbal abuse directed at a player during the game that violated the NBA Code of Conduct.”
In the lawsuit, Keisel said the first time he was contacted by Jazz officials was shortly before the ban was announced. Keisel also claimed the Jazz “felt it was necessary to be publicly seen taking action” and banned him despite other fans saying Keisel did not make any racist comments.
According to court documents, Keisel said a speech from Jazz owner Gail Miller at the next home game and an email to Jazz fans from team president Steve Starks further defamed him.
Keisel said he lost his job at Brent Brown Toyota after the Jazz released the results of their investigation and that he was terminated from SkyWest Airlines’ Pilot Pathway Program.
According to court documents, Keisel had to stop using his first legal name, abandon his social media accounts and has had friends and family disassociate themselves from him.