Lebron James vs. ‘Courtside Karen’

James was the subject of verbal harassment from a fan in Atlanta, leading to her removal from the arena and the beginning of a social media storm

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Conor Robbins, Staff Writer

Fans have made their socially-distanced return to 10 NBA arenas in this COVID-ridden 2020-21 season, ushering in a semblance of normalcy — especially for a league that prides itself on remaining ahead of the curve in its pandemic proceedings. The renewed presence of die-hard spectators and hecklers alike has been deemed a welcomed sight by a player base whose love for the game has been tested recently thanks to months of isolated competitions and empty venues. This relief is likely felt at an executive level as well, as the NBA can now begin to recoup some gate-revenue and rebuild a player-fan relationship unlike any other.

This emphasis on player-spectator relationships can prove to be a double-edged sword, however. Problems arose on Feb. 1 when an angry Atlanta Hawks fan sitting in the first row, now popularly known as “Courtside Karen,” brought game action to a screeching halt when she refused to sit down following a maskless rant directed at none other than Lebron James. Juliana Carlos was ultimately asked to leave the stadium with her husband. On Instagram later that night, Carlos justified the rant, saying she was defending the husband from a multitude of insults levied by James. 

Last Monday’s incident is by no means isolated in the annals of NBA history. In 2019, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook confronted a Utah Jazz fan, going as far as to threaten him with violence after he made derogatory comments about Westbrook and his family. The fan, who would later be suspended from the stadium for life, went on to say the exchange was “all in good fun.” This level of ignorance suggests that it is part of athletes’ job description to submit to verbal harassment and disrespect from spectators when performing on the court.

And don’t get it twisted, it’s no coincidence that in the cases of James, Westbrook, and many others like them, it is a white fan harassing a Black athlete who is both successful and outspoken on and off the court. Of course, it is fun to cheer against a rival team or player. Heck, I am a Golden State Warriors fan, and I love to hate on James. But when the final buzzer sounds, I can recognize “The King” not only as one of the greatest athletes of my lifetime, but as a great human being who uses his platform to advocate for real change. 

So what then drives a fan to make things so personal that their presence can no longer be tolerated inside the venue? Some Instagram sleuthing will reveal to you that Carlos’ husband has a documented history of Lebron James hate posts, so what gives for the 60-year-old? Is it some kind of personality trait? Does it make him feel young inside? Or maybe, just maybe, the Carlos clan can’t fathom seeing a young Black man like James succeed. 

They surely wouldn’t be the first.