OAKLAND — With the eyes of the world — and, very intently, NBA players — watching, the NBA and the Golden State Warriors together have come down hard on venture capitalist Mark Stevens, the Warriors’ minority owner/investor who shoved and cursed at Kyle Lowry during Game 3 of the NBA Finals at Oracle.
Stevens “has been banned from attending NBA games and Warriors team activities for one year and has been fined $500,000 for pushing and directing obscene language,” the NBA announced Thursday afternoon.
The incident occurred with 10:37 left in the fourth quarter of Game 3, when Toronto was ahead by 10 and emotions were high in Oracle as the Warriors tried to make a run to get back in the game. The Raptors’ Serge Ibaka had blocked a Quinn Cook layup attempt and Lowry tried to chase down the loose ball, leaping into the front row to do so and crashing into fans. Stevens, who was a couple of seats down from where Lowry landed, reached over and shoved him, then Lowry said Stevens cursed at him.
“Mr. Stevens’ behavior last night did not reflect the high standards that we hope to exemplify as an organization,” The Warriors said earlier in the day. “We’re extremely disappointed in his actions and, along with Mr. Stevens, offer our sincere apology to Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors organization for this unfortunate misconduct. There is no place for such interaction between fans—or anyone—and players at an NBA game.”
“I will also personally apologize to Kyle and to the Raptors,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who said he didn’t see the incident during the game, or really until the next morning. “That’s unacceptable.”
“A team representative must be held to the highest possible standard and the conduct of Golden State Warriors investor Mark Stevens last night was beyond unacceptable and has no place in our league,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement.
Caustic interactions between fans and players have been in the spotlight around the league this season, highlighted by Russell Westbrook‘s exchange with a couple of Utah Jazz fans who crossed the line with comments, which led to that fan being banned from future Jazz games. It sparked a discussion of some of the abuse NBA players hear from fans — at games and online — that crosses the line from rooting for your team to derogatory and racist. Players have said things like this come up more than people realize and the league needs to do more to slow this trend — players have wanted to see fans punished for these actions.
More than that, this specific situation touches on the complex intersection of race and the power dynamic in professional sports, between team owners and players. (A lot of players want to move away from the term “owner” because of the racial implications, and some teams have done that.)
“It doesn’t seem right or fair to let the fans be able to react, or jump on the court, or be in a players’ face, or say certain things, because if we say it we get fined,” Toronto’s Danny Green said, summing up what a lot of players at the Finals (and in general) were saying after this incident.
“We have to do a better job, the NBA, just of making sure these fans don’t come in and think they can just touch guys and hit them,” Kawhi Leonard said. “That’s a little extreme. All the name calling and things like that is okay, other than disrespecting your family, talking about us, but other than putting your hands on someone, that’s disrespectful.”
One thing that was universal among players was credit to Kyle Lowry for how he handled himself.
“I think you have to give Kyle a lot of credit in the way he handled it,” Draymond Green said. “You’re playing in the NBA Finals, so your emotions are running high. For him to handle it the way he did says a lot about his character, a lot about him as a man and the way he handles himself. That was great to see, the way he handled that.
“And as far as it all goes, the league has really grown in really having a no-nonsense approach when it comes to fan interactions and fan-to-player interactions. They have shown that over the course of the years now… It’s the NBA Finals, so there are a ton of eyes and attention on this. And I know every decision that I’ve seen Adam [Silver, NBA Commissioner] have to make, every tough decision, he’s made those decisions.”
He did that again.