Another day another slur in the NBA. Yuck. I hate that I’ve got to be writing about this right now, with so many great things going on in the playoffs, but after writing my displeasure with LeBron James for using the word “retarded” in a press conference a few weeks ago, it wouldn’t be right if I ignored what Joakim Noah said last night as he was sitting on the bench. After picking up his second foul with more than six minutes remaining in the first quarter he came to the bench and sat down. With the TNT cameras still focused on him, Noah responded to a fan that was heckling him by saying, “F–k you, F—-t.”

Just lovely. It’s also essentially the same thing that Kobe Bryant directed at an official as the regular season was winding down. That outburst, also caught on camera, cost Bryant $100,000 as the NBA took a stance against discriminatory language. I have no problem with that fine, as long as the league intends to be consistent with these situations. This is where things get tricky.

When James said “retarded’ in a press conference with all eyes, recorders and cameras on him, not only did the NBA not fine him, they didn’t mention it. James apologized for offending people at a morning shootaround after receiving criticism for his words and we were on our merry way. One day after Noah’s poor word choice, Noah’s teammates spoke about the drunk fan who was serving up a steady stream of vulgar insults towards Noah, baiting him into the ugly exchange that was caught on camera.

Bulls beat writer K.C. Johnson tweeted that several Bulls players said the fan made a slur about Noah’s mother. Here’s what Luol Deng told Johnson:

“What Jo said is something out of frustration — he has to do a better job of controlling his emotion…At the same time, there are times when a fan like that — honestly, I feel like jumping in the crowd and hitting him. We’re humans. And the camera is not on that fan at all. I know Jo apologized and everything, but people have to see it the other way, too. Everyone says things they don’t mean. He let the emotion get the better of him. But honestly, with a game like that, hearing that fan — I wanted to do something about it, too. Unfortunately for Jo, he has to pay the price.”

“I felt like jumping into the crowd and hitting him.” Can you blame him? It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been playing basketball or how many times you’ve seen/heard/experienced people saying those things about your family, it doesn’t make it OK. You shouldn’t have to take that verbal abuse while you’re on the clock, doing your job.

We all know that athletes get paid millions of dollars to play a game and as a result they have to take fans heckling and teasing and taunting them. But it doesn’t matter how much money someone is getting paid — having people say disgusting, ignorant and vile things about their family while sitting only inches away from them isn’t a part of the deal.

Nor should it be, regardless of the cost of tickets or the amount of zeros on the checks being cashed by these players. I wish fans could realize they are paying money to watch a sport, not to speak to athletes in a way they couldn’t — and wouldn’t — dare to outside of the arena. It’s not OK and it frustrates me that there isn’t something that can be done to eliminate this.

While I say this, I am in no way excusing what Noah said because it frustrates me that Noah used the f-word. I’ve written at length about my thoughts with respect to the use of words like these and don’t want to repeat myself here, but will say Noah was absolutely wrong in using that slur to fire back at the fan, regardless of what was said. While I understand being enraged and I sympathize with him having to deal with an ignorant fan that likely should have been thrown out of the game (and maybe that’s the solution, removing fans who can’t understand basic rules of decorum and human decency), whether or not Noah meant to offend anyone, he did so when he used that word. It’s a part of his vocabulary, just like it is a part of Bryant’s vocabulary, just like the r-word is a part of James’.

I don’t doubt that Noah feels badly for causing pain to some and for using the word at all. Maybe this will be the start of him replacing that word with so many others that would fit the bill. It’ll be interesting to see how the NBA decides to deal with this. After making a stance with Bryant, will they look at this differently because the exchange was toward a fan who was trying to incite Noah?

There are a lot of variables in this situation and there will continue to be those x-factors that pop up as the league tries to uphold the statement they made with Bryant’s fine. While Noah deserves to be fined, that fan who said those things to him about his family? He deserves punishment, too. I don’t care if he’s paying lots of money for those tickets beside the bench, I’d ban his ass from the arena for the rest of this series.

The bottom line here goes back to what I said after James used the r-word: Let’s stop being jerks. Aim to stop using words that hurt people outside of the one they’re being directed toward. There are plenty of four-letter words we can use instead. If you’re a fan sitting in a cushy seat you just shelled out a lot of money for, enjoy it. Enjoy the game and enjoy the energy and enjoy heckling a player, but recognize that when he steps off of the basketball court, that player is a person with a family he loves and will protect at all costs, just like you will with yours. Leave his family out of it. If you can’t do that, I feel sorry for you and I’d much prefer you watch from home where your ignorance can remain contained within those four walls so the rest of us don’t have to hear it.