Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant and coach Taylor Jenkins said Friday in a virtual news conference that Utah Jazz fans have a reputation around the NBA for the type of inappropriate behavior in Game 2 that resulted in three fans being banned indefinitely from attending future Jazz games.

“I mean, I have heard about Utah before, so I invited a lot of people, double digits, for sure,” said Morant, a second-year player, when asked about the comments from fans at Vivint Arena during Utah’s 141-129 win in Game 2 that were condemned by Jazz ownership and management as being inappropriate.

Morant, who scored a career-high 47 points in the game, later said he doesn’t know yet if his family will travel to Utah when the series returns to the Beehive State “because of that reason.”

“I mean, we gotta protect our players and their families,” he said.

“I mean, I have heard about Utah before, so I invited a lot of people, double digits, for sure.” — Memphis star Ja Morant on having his family at Game 2 in Salt Lake City

Told of Morant’s comments and asked by the Deseret News if Utah fans have a reputation for inappropriate behavior and comments and if the problem is more pronounced there than other NBA arenas, Jenkins said: “I can’t address the second part, but the first part, yes.”

Memphis hosts Utah on Saturday (7:30 p.m. MDT, ESPN) and Monday for Games 3 and 4 in a series that is tied 1-1 and is much more competitive and heated than most believed it would be. But Friday’s questions via Zoom for the Grizzlies and Jenkins were more about the incidents in Utah — fellow guard Dillon Brooks’ family was said to have been harassed as well — than the actual games.

Officials will raise the capacity at FedEXForum to 55%, meaning approximately 10,000 fans will be in attendance. “Hopefully they return the boos that Utah was giving us and some of our players, and we just go out and try to win that game for them, and just play hard,” Morant said.

Memphis teammates Jonas Valanciunas and De’Anthony Melton also addressed the situation regarding Morant’s family and suggested they weren’t surprised by treatment dished out by a few Utah fans.

“About the fan treatment, I mean, this is unacceptable,” Valanciunas said. “That’s terrible. I mean, especially families and everybody. I don’t know what to say. This is tough to see and one thing I hope is our fans are going to be different because we are above that and we gonna treat everybody the same and be nice to opposite team, too.

“We can cheer for our team and support our team, but everybody is equal and everybody deserves to be treated equally,” said Valanciunas, who is from Lithuania.

Utah Jazz indefinitely ban three fans from Vivint Arena for verbal incident directed at family members of Memphis Grizzlies star
Utah Jazz will host free public watch party at Vivint Arena on Saturday for Game 3 against the Memphis Grizzlies

Said Melton, a second-year player from USC: “I feel like the NBA did a good job in what they did. … I feel like that type of stuff, as long as it is brought to light, and let the NBA handle it, that type of stuff can’t be tolerated, for sure. Everybody thinks we are just basketball players, but we are people at the end of the day, too. 

“So we can’t let disrespect or none of that stuff happen, especially to our families. … Talk to us, but talk to us in a respectable manner, for sure,” he continued.

On Thursday, the Jazz said in a statement that the organization has “zero tolerance for offensive or disruptive behavior” and called the incident a “verbal altercation” that caused arena security staff to intervene.

“We apologize to all who were impacted by this unfortunate incident and condemn unacceptable fan behavior,” the statement said, without naming any of the fans from either side.

There have been a growing number of unacceptable interactions between fans and NBA players during the playoffs as COVID-19 restrictions have loosened and attendance has gone up.

“I thought about this the other day: Everyone has been cooped up with COVID and staying at home and clamoring for sports and being back in social arenas and atmospheres, and this is what you do,” Jenkins said. “It is at the core of humanity that needs to be addressed and I am beyond disappointed. 

“Luckily, I have the utmost faith in our fan base to be the most competitive, and rowdy, but also the most hospitable and respectful as they always are.

“But to know that this exists in our country, in our NBA arenas, in our fan bases, something further has to be addressed,” he said.

Also Wednesday, a fan threw popcorn on Washington Wizards star Russell Westbrook when he was leaving the court to be examined for an injury during a game against the 76ers, and a New York Knicks fan allegedly spat in the direction of Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young.

So the Jazz, who were 3-0 against the Grizzlies in the regular season, will be walking into an amped up environment Saturday night, Melton said.

“Man, I think not only we deserve it, but the fans deserve it,” he said. “I think Memphis really feeds off this type of energy and these types of games. You know, 1-1 in the series right now. … It will be a lot of love for the city to come out, and people showing love and everything like that, but also to make noise and scream and stuff like that, too. It is going to be important.”

For his part, Morant said he was “happy” that the Jazz took action and added that his family is doing well.

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“I mean, it is just mind-blowing that that type of stuff still continues in the world today,” said Morant, who played college ball at Murray State in Kentucky. “But our focus now, me and my family, is Game 3. … Very excited to be back home in Memphis where we are comfortable and have fans who embrace us and love us and treat us like their own.”

Morant said he noticed that his family was talking with security during the third quarter, and he sent a message to them through Memphis’ security that they should “chill and just watch the game and not cheer anymore because obviously that affected some people in the stands.”

When he got back to the hotel and learned what had been said, he thanked his family for not tolerating it. Morant said he was appreciative of the Utah fans who put an end to the disrespect and notified security, repeating the story he mentioned on social media that his father and some Jazz fans bought drinks for each other.

“Obviously, it is tough on all of us, but we move forward,” he said. “We are going to continue to speak up and try to stop this. We are glad Utah did what it did to those fans.”

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