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Utah Jazz's 'rowdy' fan base back in spotlight among NBA stars such as Kevin Durant, Steph Curry

Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio (3) Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) argue the call as the Utah Jazz and the Golden State Warriors play an NBA basketball game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Wedn
Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio (3) Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) argue the call as the Utah Jazz and the Golden State Warriors play an NBA basketball game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. Jazz won 108-103.
Scott G Winterton

SALT LAKE CITY — A five-letter expletive word that rhymes with rich is what Kevin Durant shouted to a random fan after blowing a kiss while back trotting down the hardwood at Vivint Arena.

With a sellout crowd in attendance, the Golden State Warriors star embraced the banter after nailing a free throw late in the second quarter before responding.

The Utah Jazz would go on to beat the defending champion Warriors, 108-103, on Wednesday, but the incident was the latest example in the visiting NBA player-Utah fan saga in the Jazz’s home arena.

However, the league has never contacted the Utah Jazz about concerns with the fan conduct at home.

“The crowd is loud. They don’t care what they say to you,” Durant said during the Jazz-Warriors shootaround. “They’re going to cheer for everything, especially a miss, turnover or blocked shot. Every little thing gets them excited, and that feeds into the team.”

Vivint Arena has a fan capacity of 18,306 fans, and every game has been sold out this season. Utah ranks No. 12 in attendance, per ESPN’s NBA Attendance Report, where the effervescent fan base has earned a reputation for being both high-spirited while occasionally crossing the line for opposing teams as well.

“They support their team. It’s usually really loud when they go on runs, and it can get a little overwhelming, but we’ve had some success here,” said Warriors guard Steph Curry. “We’ve actually been blown out a couple times too, so we’ve seen a little bit of everything. It’s just a matter of getting off to good starts against this team and not letting the crowd dictate the energy and momentum that they feed off of.”

The Jazz are one of two major professional sports teams in town, along with Real Salt Lake of the Major League Soccer, which only heightens the local passion.

As Utah went on a strong run to end the 2017-18 campaign, the final 27 games of the last regular season were sold out — including the playoffs. That is when Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook publicly ranted about Utah’s unpleasant fan behavior during the first round of OKC’s first-round series versus the Jazz, when he encountered two separate confrontations with fans in Game 6. Westbrook and the Thunder returned to Utah for the first time this season on Saturday to edge out a 107-106 victory, where no incidents were spotted.

After Durant’s latest encounter, the topic of the Jazz’s heckling fans once again hit the spotlight, with former NBA player Matt Barnes recently joining The Herd with Colin Cowherd on FS1. Barnes recounted hearing racial slurs during the Golden State Warriors’ Western Conference semifinals series during the 2007 NBA playoffs.

“Couldn’t believe it,” Barnes told Cowherd. “More N-words than probably had black people in the whole city, so it was a really racial situation and people say anything now because there’s no consequences for it.

“I can say anything on my phone to anybody and know most likely there’s not going to be a consequence to it so people really speak freely knowing face-to-face you would never say something like that to somebody.”

The Utah organization does everything in its power to eliminate these situations while trying to create a positive and safe environment, according to Jazz senior vice president of communications Frank Zang. Fans who act inappropriately may be subject to ejection, and conduct cards are placed in the first several rows of seats around the court.

There is also an NBA and Utah Jazz Fan Code of Conduct statement on the website, plus a video narrated by play-by-play announcer Craig Bolerjack that plays on the Jumbotron before each game and at halftime, along with signage around the arena for a text line so fans can report inappropriate behavior and get assistance from guest services.

And not everyone has a problem with Jazz Nation. Prior to NBA legend Kobe Bryant’s final game at Vivint Arena on Jan. 16, 2016, the retired Los Angeles Lakers star paid respect to the Jazz crowd.

“They were really, really tough on me, more so than the other crowds,” Bryant said during a press conference. “They were tough from signs, from shooting the free throw to literally just yelling right in my ear when I’m taking the ball out. It pissed me off so much.

“It was like ’08 in the playoffs where I just kind of erupted after the play and started talking back to the crowd because they just kept driving me, so that being said, it’s fond memories,” he said. “Truly, because that’s what sports should be, I think. It’s that kind of bantering and that kind of competition. So, I’ve always loved playing here because of that."

While the heckling and taunting may be bothersome to opposing teams and individual talent, such as Durant, the mental competition is certainly an advantage for Jazz players.

“There’s arenas where seats are full and then there’s rowdy fans and there’s a difference,” said Jazz sharpshooter Kyle Korver. “There’s like the corporate, ‘we’re going to fill the arena no matter how many tickets we sell, we’re just going to sell out,’ and then there’s like the rowdies and there’s a few rowdy cities in the NBA, and I would consider Salt Lake one of them.”