Adams described them as "quick little monkeys" in a televised on-court interview after Oklahoma City's 108-102 win in the series opener on Monday night. He later apologized and told USA Today Sports that differences in the use of language in his home country led to his poor choice of words.
Adams is from New Zealand. He came to the U.S. in 2012 to attend college at Pittsburgh.
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In his apology, Adams said he "was just trying to express how difficult it was chasing those guys around."
"It's just different, mate," Adams told USA Today Sports. "Different words, different expressions, and stuff like that. But they obviously can be taken differently, depending on which country you're in. I'm assimilating, mate, still trying to figure out the boundaries. But I definitely overstepped them tonight."
In New Zealand, the term "little monkey" is often used to describe the antics of children. It's less frequently used when talking about adults, but generally wouldn't be considered offensive. However, it's widely considered to be a taboo, racially insensitive term in the U.S.
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This is not the first time "monkey" has been used to describe an athlete's ability or crowd behavior at a sporting event.
Other examples, both in the U.S. and internationally, include:
- Sportscaster Howard Cosell referred to Washington Redskins receiver Alvin Garrett "that little monkey" during a Monday Night Football game. Cosell set off a tempest with his comment during the Sept. 5, 1983 telecast of the Dallas Cowboys-Redskins game. After Garrett made a darting run after a catch, Cosell exclaimed, "That little monkey gets loose, doesn't he." Garrett said at the time of Cosell's death in 1995 that the sportscaster met with him to try to defuse the situation. Garrett said then the comment did not bother him.
- In 1996, CBS commentator Billy Packer referred to Georgetown guard Allen Iverson as a "tough monkey" during a game between the Hoyas and Villanova. Phone calls quickly flooded the switchboards at both television stations and the university, and Packer issued an on-air apology - insisting that he did not mean it to be disparaging in any way. Georgetown coach John Thompson quickly jumped to Packer's defense. "He is not a racist," Thompson said.
- In 2008, India cricketer Harbhajan Singh called Australian player Andrew Symonds, who is black, a monkey during a game in Sydney. In this context, Symonds and the Australians complained, and Singh was initially barred from some international matches. However, India successfully argued that calling somebody "monkey" is not considered racist in India, and had the ban overturned. It did cause a big stir because India, the world cricket power, was reportedly threatening to boycott the tour if the ban stood for Singh.
- South African swimmer Roland Schoeman took heat in 2010 at the Commonweath Games when he said the crowd in India was acting "like monkeys." Schoeman later apologized for his comments, saying "If I knew it was a racial slur, I wouldn't have used the word."
- Boxing champion Sergey Kovalev jabbed at rival Adonis Stevenson on Twitter in 2015, pointing to a child wearing a T-shirt depicting a boxer with a monkey's face. The caption read, "Adonis looks great." Kovalev is white and Stevenson black. Kovalev was criticized on social media and apologized for the Tweet, saying he did not know it was bad.
- Back in February, the Sacramento Kings pulled a free t-shirt designed to celebrate the Lunar New Year and Chinese Year of the Monkey in part because of complaints from DeMarcus Cousins and others in the organization that it came at the start of Black History Month. The shirts, which had a purple monkey on them, were draped over seats at the arena but taken away before fans showed up.
Adams comes from a very multicultural background. His father is from England, his mother from Tonga and he grew up in New Zealand.
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