Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder publicly apologized to Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant and his family on Friday, calling for a lifetime ban for the three fans who directed vulgar, racist language at Morant’s family during Game 2 of the Jazz’s Western Conference quarterfinal series against the Grizzlies.
The Jazz banned the three fans indefinitely after the incident, but Snyder said he believes the punishment needs to be taken a step further.
“First, I’d like to apologize to Ja and his family,” Snyder said after Friday’s practice. “No one should have to be subjected to the kind of behavior that they were the other night. It’s deplorable. And the people that made those comments should be banned for life. I’m sorry for [his family] to have to endure that and as I said it’s deplorable and concerning and should not be tolerated.”
Morant’s father, Tee, told ESPN’s Tim MacMahon on Thursday that his family was subjected to sexually explicit and racist remarks from the trio of fans, including one fan who yelled, “I’ll put a nickel in your back and watch you dance, boy.”
Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, who came out in support of Morant and his family after the bans were announced and condemned the fans’ behavior, reiterated his stance Friday.
Mitchell said he reached out to Morant to express that he appreciated how the 21-year-old handled the situation.
“You’ve seen guys say that the way they [would have] handled it would be totally different,” Mitchell said. “It’s beyond unfortunate and it needs to change. It happened here. Trae [Young] got spit on in New York, Russ [Westbrook] getting popcorn thrown at him, and we obviously hear what’s going on in Boston, too. Enough is enough, man.
“I feel like banning them is great, but I don’t think they should be back. I understand there’s more to it than that, and I understand that that’s what the league and team is working on, but I feel like there’s no place for that in life, not even just in the game of basketball.”
Morant spoke about the incident with reporters Friday and said he was “happy” with the way the Jazz handled it. But he said he couldn’t believe his family was subjected to that kind of behavior.
“Obviously, it’s very unacceptable what went on,” Morant said. “My family’s doing well. It’s just mind-blowing that that type of stuff still continues in the world today. But our focus now, me and my family, is Game 3. Probably go home, watch basketball with them tonight to prepare, and we’re very excited to be back home in Memphis, where we’re comfortable and have fans who embrace us and love us, treat us like their own.”
Although his father told MacMahon on Thursday that he would travel back to Utah for Game 5, Morant said Friday that he wasn’t sure that would happen because of the way his family was treated.
Morant said he always makes it a point to know where his family is sitting inside opposing arenas and that he could tell during Game 2 that there was an issue when he looked up in the stands.
“I’ve heard about Utah before,” Morant said. “I invited a lot of people, double-digits for sure, and I know where they sit during the game, so anytime I get in my groove and getting to talking I always look to them because I know where they’re at and I know they’re probably talking the same just like me, so I actually get a lot of energy from them. I went on a little run in that third quarter, and I just happened to look up at my people and I see them talking with security.”
Morant said he initially told Grizzlies security personnel to tell his family to try to calm down. But after the game, upon hearing what the fans had said, Morant said he understood why his family responded the way it did.
“I told them really don’t even cheer no more because obviously that affected some people in the stands,” Morant said. “Obviously it bothered me — after the game I went back to the hotel, sat with my family and they told me actually what was said. I got kind of frustrated because I was telling them to stay cool, but if I knew what they said, I would have just let my family handle business instead of trying to calm them down.
“Obviously it’s tough on all of us, but we move forward. We’re going to continue to speak up and try to stop this, but we’re glad Utah did what it did to those fans.”
Mitchell said he was personally disgusted after hearing of the fans’ remarks to Morant’s family, especially given previous incidents in Utah and across the league.
“We’re at a point now, we’re a team that, we’re giving scholarships to underrepresented kids in the community and the majority of them are minorities,” Mitchell said. “And I feel like it’s kind of contradicting when stuff like this happens, and I feel like it’s kind of messed up that it happens. And it’s not just here; it’s not just a Utah thing. It’s happened here before. It’s happened a few times since I’ve been here. It’s something that I’m really passionate about because at the end of the day we play for the Jazz. So what you’re saying about Ja’s mother and father, you’re saying to my mother and father, [Derrick Favors‘] mother and father. It’s not like you’re speaking to the Grizzlies — you’re only speaking to a Black man, Black woman, and I feel like that’s first.
“Basketball is what it is, but that’s first. And that’s what we are. We’re African-American men and women first, and when you go out there and say something like that, that’s just terrible and ridiculous.”
Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said he and the team discussed what Morant’s family went through in Game 2. He said he knows there are ongoing conversations between the Jazz and the league but called the situation “beyond disappointing.”
“Everyone’s been cooped up with COVID and staying home and clamoring for sports and being back in social arenas and atmospheres, and this is what you do,” Jenkins said. “It’s at the core of humanity that needs to get addressed, and I am just beyond disappointed. … But to know that this exists in our country, our NBA arenas, our fan bases, something further has to be addressed in my opinion.”
Morant said he is hopeful that the NBA will look into placing all visiting family and friends in the same section on the road so that their can be more control surrounding their environment inside the arena.
“My family actually was surrounded by a lot of Utah fans in the middle, so it was kind of tough for them to be able to cheer without somebody saying anything,” Morant said. “I’m not going to sit here and act like it’s all Utah fans. I actually got feedback from my family that some fans there in Utah actually took up for them and actually said something to the people who was saying those things to my family. My dad actually laughed and joked with a few. They bought each other drinks — so it’s not everybody, it’s just some.
“Me and my family appreciate those Utah Jazz fans who was taking care of them, laughing and joking, and the ones who also stepped up and said something to the three who were banned.”
Despite several incidents from sometimes unruly and disrespectful fans in Utah in recent years, Mitchell said he doesn’t believe the reputation Jazz fans have developed over the years will hinder players from wanting to sign there in the future.
“I don’t think so,” Mitchell said. “I think we as a team, what we stand for with Ryan [Smith] and now Dwyane [Wade] at the helm and the Millers as well, we’ve shown we’ve put our foot forward, foot down on these incidents. Look at the team we have now — we have [Jordan Clarkson] who decided to re-sign, [Favors] comes back. We’ve got guys that want to be here, want to play.”
Mitchell added: “There is a rep that this happens solely here, and as we’ve seen there’s incidents that happen everywhere. But I don’t think necessarily that will have an impact. I don’t know, but I don’t think it will necessarily have an impact on guys’ decisions, whether they want to come here or not.”