I grew up in an era of sports where athletes were heckled by fans, especially NBA players, because of the proximity to the court that fans are allowed to sit. Players had thick skin during those days and were constantly heckled by fans. Some was good natured, but some was in bad taste.
In every city, the players knew it was coming. In some cities, there were some known hecklers.
In Detroit, they had “Leon the Barber,” who was a notorious heckler. Players knew where he sat, and actually had fun with him and liked him. In Los Angeles, you had Jack Nicholson, who was a fixture at Lakers games and always heckled opposing players. In New York, it was Spike Lee, another well-known heckler. Spike gave players the business, especially Reggie Miller. He and Reggie had some legendary battles and were constantly going at it. Spike is still heckling players to this day.
In today’s NBA, Drake sits at courtside in Toronto and has been known to heckle opposing players.
I’ve noticed a recent trend of today’s NBA players responding to hecklers, which is to go back-and-forth verbally with them, or have them removed from the arena. Some players have been restrained from going into the stands, while others have resorted to giving them the finger. I get that some of these fans are obnoxious and may cross the line with some of their comments.
Some of the greats like Bill Russell, KC Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robinson, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, played during the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. They endured some vicious heckling with racist overtones. They endured it and ignored it, and fought for social change, in an era where racism was the norm. They laid the foundation for the players today to make millions, although they certainly didn’t.
I’m sure it wasn’t easy for those players to ignore the verbal abuse, but they did.
Out of respect for the greats that came before you, let the fans be fans. A little heckling and trash talking makes the game fun.
I just tell it like it is.
Burl “The Coach” Jones