An Orlando Magic fan, Hooman Hamzehloui, heckled Dikembe Mutombo during a recent pre-season game between the Magic and Rockets calling him a "monkey." The fan, who accompanied the chants with corresponding physical gestures, was rushed by Mutombo, who viewed the heckling as a racial slur.
The fan claims that his heckling was not racially motivated, but rather an ignorant attempt to get up the Zaire native's nose. Well, it certainly worked. He got up the NBA's nose as well. After being ejected from the game, he has been banned from attending NBA games and his season ticket has been rescinded by the Magic.
Hamzehloui has since received death threats. The businessman, of Persian background, tried to make amends with an apologetic letter to Mutombo (which not so surpisingly got into the public domain), offering a $5,000 donation to any charity as well as not to turn up to any NBA game until Mutombo (or the Magic) say that he may. Well that choice has been taken away from him after the NBA's ban.
Magic fan reactions on their Forum are mixed. Many believe it was just an ignorant mistake. Others believe he should have known better and that it was clearly a racist attack, equated to the "monkey" chants which often haunt European soccer players of African origin. This take, from an Orlando Sentinel writer, claims that his attack is "indefensible." Either way, the NBA isn't accepting anything remotely racist in this era of "cleansing" of the NBA image.