It was going to be awfully tough for anything to rival the at-long-last unveiling of Joel Embiid for the title of Most Widely Beloved Thing About The Philadelphia 76ers’ 2016-17 Season Opener. And yet, with just under five minutes remaining in the first quarter of the Sixers’ matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, a new challenger emerged:
The Philly fan who deemed it wise to fire off a pair of middle fingers at Russell Westbrook — thus prompting his ejection from his seat, meaning he really didn’t get a whole heck of a lot of bang for his buck on those Opening Night tickets (though he was allowed to remain in the arena) — became the stuff of viral wildfire, a perfect insta-avatar for the familiar overt aggressiveness of Philadelphia sports supporters and something of a welcome reminder that the NBA, arguably the most delightfully lunatic sports league in the United States, had well and truly returned after the long offseason.
As we watched his dual birds flying on an endless loop, though, we were left to wonder: who is this mound of mirth and malevolence? What, at the end of the day, was Unchill 21st Century Ben Franklin’s deal?
Well, now we know. From Jonathan Tannenwald and Sam Wood of Philly.com:
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The latest viral sensation in Philadelphia sports isn’t a spectacular play made by a great athlete. It’s a urologist.
Richard Harkaway, a urologist for a medical practice with offices at Albert Einstein Medical Center in North Philadelphia, is the fan who spent heaven knows how much money to sit in one of the most expensive seats in the Wells Fargo Center for the 76ers’ season opener, then flipped off Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook with both hands. […]
Early Thursday evening, Harkaway issued a statement accepting responsibility for his actions.
“As a part-time comedian I realize that my words and actions are sometimes inappropriate,” Harkaway said in a statement to Philly.com issued by a personal representative. “In this instance, after standing up to boo and being provoked by Russell Westbrook calling attention to my being overweight, my action in response was clearly inexcusable and I am embarrassed. I sincerely apologize to my fellow Sixers fans, the Sixers organization, my colleagues and patients, and to Mr. Westbrook for my behavior.”
A “part-time comedian.”
If you’re curious, too, you can find out here. (That video’s four years old, though, so be gentle when judging what might be old material!)
Before issuing his official apology, Harkaway wrote a post on his personal Facebook page about the incident, according to Dan Martin of the New York Post:
“To all my FB friends who are seeing a picture of me on the Internet giving the finger to Russell Westbrook. Actually two fingers,’’ Harkaway wrote in a private post. “Not as simple as it seems. I love to scream at the players and anyone who has been to a game with me knows this. Part of my charm. What you may not have seen on any of the video clips is what started the whole thing, which was Russell Westbrook saying ‘sit down f—ing fat boy’ when I stood up to boo.” […]
“I am sometimes sensitive about my plumpness,’’ said Harkaway, who also dabbles in stand-up comedy. “I guess I got a little out of hand.”
A reverse angle of the play shows Westbrook’s reaction after drawing a foul on Sixers point guard T.J. McConnell and converting the and-one finish. It does look like Russ lets loose an f-bomb, but it’s tough to corroborate the rest of Harkaway’s story:
Sixers fan on baseline just gave Russell Westbrook the double birds after an and-1. Westbrook reaction: pic.twitter.com/KwTeswmFJv
— Erik Horne (@ErikHorneOK) October 27, 2016
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At Oklahoma City’s shootaround before the Thunder’s Friday night game against the Phoenix Suns, Westbrook fielded questions about Harkaway’s allegations. Westbrook, as you surely expected, offered a long and detail-rich answer on the matter:
“Uh, yeah, man, I’m looking forward to tonight,” Westbrook said. “Definitely, good home-crowd intensity tonight. Looking forward to seeing how our guys come out and play.”
And, presumably, to the lack of overweight fans liable to say or do outlandish things to try to get in the heads of the visitors.
More NBA coverage:
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The 76ers fan who flipped off Russell Westbrook is sorry, but says Russ provoked him – Yahoo Sports