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It’s just a game, so why is Zaza Pachulia receiving death threats?

Zaza Pachulia disabled his Instagram comments because he was receiving death threats against himself and his family. Please remember, everyone, that this is a game. It’s meant to be fun.

San Antonio Spurs v Golden State Warriors - Game One Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

We’ve seen some pretty heated comments since the play in which Kawhi Leonard was injured. Well, the third play in which he was injured. He will be out for at least the second game of the Western Conference Finals and that is truly unfortunate. We all wish him the best and want to see him back as soon as he’s healthy.

Leonard himself said he did not believe the play, in which Zaza Pachulia landed on his foot, causing him to roll his already injured ankle, was dirty. San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, on the other hand, disagrees and had some strong words to say about Pachulia and plays from his past.

Fair enough, I suppose, in the sense that it’s his job to stand up for his players. If this injury is as serious as we all fear, this could seriously impact their chances in the series. I don’t think any of us wanted that, aside from the pettiest among us and they aren’t true fans of the game.

It’s one thing to debate among other fans as to whether the play was appropriate or not, or even dirty, but leave it at that.

Unfortunately, there are enough people who refused to leave it at that, to the point where Zaza Pachulia closed the comments on his Instagram account after receiving death threats against himself and his family. Death threats against his family. My goodness, in what way does that seem justified?

Sadly, this is nothing new in this world of internet anonymity, but we should not become accustomed to it. Imagine getting home from work to find death threats from random strangers about something you did at the office. How do you know one of them isn’t serious? Does that seem like a normal thing that should happen to anyone?

Yet we’ve seen many times that some people have a hard time remembering that this is a game and that these athletes are human beings. Human beings that get paid to play a game that we love to watch. A game that has no impact on our daily life, aside from serving as entertainment.

It’s tempting to get caught up in the heat of the moment and let loose a tirade of hot takes on the internet. But the majority of sports fans are decent human beings who would never take the time out of their lives to actively tag an athlete in a post threatening to kill them. Or wishing death and torture upon their families.

That’s reassuring.

However that doesn’t always translate into how we treat each other as fans. Again, there’s a disconnect in terms of remembering that we’re all just people. Who are here to watch a game and have a good time.

It’s true, if your star player gets injured, you’re not going to have a good time. Everyone can relate to that because it happens to every team at some point or another. But we don’t have to resort to treating each other as though we aren’t people just because we’re fans of another team.

Just look at the game on Monday night where a Wizards fan knocked a Celtics fan out. And this isn’t limited to basketball. Look at Bryan Stow, a San Francisco Giants fan who attended a game at Dodger Stadium where he was brutally beaten and will suffer physical consequences of that for the rest of his life, while his attackers are serving time in prison.

Man, that is way too heavy for something that is supposed to be a game. Take a minute to take stock of your life and priorities. Remember that sports are meant to be fun. Sports are supposed to be entertaining.

And sure, you probably wouldn’t ever do what that Wizards fan or those Dodgers fans did. But ask yourself, before you go to troll a fan of an opposing team, would you say this to their face if you were seated next to each other at the game? Smack-talking is fine, but there are limits. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, maybe just don’t say it.

Ask yourself, if you’re ever tempted to shout at a player during a game or send Tweets/Instagram comments: If you were talking to that player one on one, would you say that same thing to their face?

As Tamryn wrote earlier this year, it’s a slippery slope from heckling to pure unadulterated hatred and bigotry and that is something we should strive never to display.

The anonymity of the internet may have made some of us braver online, but personal accountability needs to remain a factor. Remember that we are all here for the same reasons. We all want to have fun watching basketball. And sometimes basketball isn’t fun. We know that as much as everyone else.

While it’s true that we cannot control what others say to us, we can control how we respond in order to direct the flow of the conversation. You can egg it on, which may seem fun for a bit until someone crosses the line. Or you can take the high road and deescalate the situation. Take a minute, when you see vitriol, when you see hatred, when you see people saying the worst of things, and present yourself as better than that. At least in terms of sports fandom. Otherwise, no one wins.

We are fans of the most hated franchise in the NBA, due to a national narrative that doesn’t match up with what we’ve been watching over the last however many years you’ve been a fan. And it’s frustrating when people irrationally hate our team. It’s easy to want to lash out in anger, but what does that really accomplish? What does that lead to?

Obviously we are not immune from having the worst of our fans say terrible things, but look at this (if you can stomach it.) Look at what people were tweeting at Zaza Pachulia after Game 1 and decide for yourself where you draw the line - do you really want to go down that road?

At the end of the day, all of this is just a game. And we love it. And we are passionate about it. And that is great! But check yourself, and check those around you, when it starts to become way too serious. Because you never know when someone might cross that line from words to action. None of us want that.

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