The last thing in the world Kyle Lowry wanted to talk about the day after delivering one of the most important performances of his 13-year career was a man he’d never seen before reaching over a sideline seat to shove him. The Toronto point guard didn’t get what he wanted.
“It sucks that this has to take the front page of the Finals,” Lowry told reporters during Thursday’s media session ahead of Game 4. “It’s been a fun Finals. It’s been a competitive Finals. It really sucks that this has to take part, and had to be a part of it.”
But it’s an important conversation to have, in no small part because the man who put his hands on Lowry after the guard had leapt into the front row trying to save possession with 10:37 to go in the fourth quarter of Game 3 was not just another well-heeled denizen of Oracle Arena’s courtside seats, but Warriors part-owner Mark Stevens.
Here's the fan that gave Kyle Lowry a bit of a push that had Lowry frustrated pic.twitter.com/A41HCGdMAY— Board Man Gets Paid (@cjzero) June 6, 2019
Lowry said Thursday that, after the shove, Stevens told him to “go blank himself” multiple times. Lowry immediately began an animated conversation with referee Marc Davis about the incident. In that discussion, which extended through the ensuing timeout, he was advocating for Stevens “to be gone”—from his seat, from the arena, and for good.
“I’m glad I did what I did, and I understand that things could have been a lot different if I reacted a different way or if I did something or put my hands on him or did anything of that nature,” Lowry said earlier on Thursday. “But the support I’ve gotten from fellow players, the league, has been unbelievable. With that being said, I think more should be done.
“He’s not a good look for the ownership group that they have. And I know Joe Lacob. Those guys are great guys. The ownership that they have that I know, they’re unbelievable guys. But a guy like that, showing his true class, and he shouldn’t be a part of our league. There’s just no place for that.”
The incident became the talk of the league on Thursday, in part because of the high-profile stage on which it occurred, and in part because it sits at the intersection of several different extremely fraught issues: players speaking out about the verbal abuse from fans; at-times contentious relationships between the labor class and members of ownership groups (which, in the NBA, might not be referred to as “ownership” groups for too much longer); and an increasingly polarized social and political climate in which, as Warriors forward Andre Iguodala said Thursday, “no one is afraid to really express themselves, whether it be through their beliefs, whatever that is.”
“There are incentives to be brave with who you truly are,” Iguodala said.
There can also be penalties. First, the Warriors announced that Stevens would not be allowed to attend any of the remaining games in the 2019 Finals. Then, after many—including LeBron James, who had already spoken out against Stevens’s shove on Wednesday night—suggested that penalty wasn’t nearly severe enough, the Warriors announced that Stevens had been suspended from all team-related activities, and the NBA declared that Stevens would be barred from all NBA games pending a league investigation, terming his conduct “beyond unacceptable” for a “team representative.”
Two hours later, the NBA and the Warriors jointly levied a final punishment: a $500,000 fine and a one-year ban from “attending NBA games and Warriors team activities [that] is effective immediately and carries through the 2019-20 NBA season, including the postseason.” The league did not, however, levy a lifetime ban, or indicate any movement toward Stevens’s removal from the Warriors’ collection of minority owners. (It’s possible, though, that such movement will come at a later date, and independent of any league-office activity.)
”I think we recognize that it’s not a science in terms of making these decisions,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver told reporters after the league announced the results of its investigation into the incident, which included interviews with Stevens and multiple other parties who witnessed the incident. “Ultimately, we felt that given how contrite Mr. Stevens was, the fact that he was extraordinarily apologetic, the fact that he had no blemishes on his prior involvement with the NBA or the Warriors, that a one-year ban seemed appropriate together with the fine. But he made a mistake in my mind, and paid a very large price for it.”
The league didn’t deliver its discipline until after Thursday’s media session with the Raptors and Warriors had wrapped up. The question: Now that they’ve learned about the price Stevens will have to pay, will the NBA’s players believe that the league’s punishment fit the crime? Earlier in the day, Lowry made his feelings clear.
“I think what I think, and what I feel is a guy like that shouldn’t be a part of our league. Being honest with you. That’s my personal opinion. That’s just how I feel,” Lowry said. “We have had situations like this before and the league has done the right thing. That’s protecting the players and protecting the image of the league.”
Several other players expressed similar sentiments.
“I would say the punishment should be, I guess, more,” said Raptors guard Danny Green. “When it came out [that he was a part-owner of the Warriors], I was shocked, and a little appalled, about his behavior.”
“Anybody in the NBA circle, you’re held to a different standard,” said Golden State forward Draymond Green. “So I think it’s no different when you start talking of anybody in any ownership group in the league. You’re held to a different standard. You can say it’s unfair or not, like, whatever your opinion is on it, whether you’re one way or the other, that’s just the reality of it.”
The disconnect and occasional discord between players and spectators laid bare by the viral interaction between Russell Westbrook and a Utah Jazz fan back in March isn’t going anywhere. Multiple players on Thursday spoke about how vulnerable they feel in situations when they’re playing and come into contact with fans, and about the importance of clearly defined and maintained boundaries for what is and is not acceptable fan behavior.
“It sucks that we have to take the high road all the time, but that is what it is,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “It’s unfortunate that some people feel like they can do things like that.”
And if players perceive Stevens’s sentence as a relative slap on the wrist, it’s possible that this issue could get even thornier in short order.
FACTS!!! https://t.co/VumtVkVXMX— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 6, 2019
500k???? @CP3 got suspended I believe 3 games earlier in the season and lost 500k... So a billionaire owner gets suspended 1 year and loses 500k.. Naw this isn’t adding up right https://t.co/u5iq3S8QOI— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) June 6, 2019
Oh you a funny guy! First he should never be able to sit court side again, 2nd the fine should be no less then a million.. The real question is do they make him sell his shares or come to an agreement of something else.. https://t.co/HgMXZQdudg— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) June 7, 2019
--for sure, and look at Steven's face as Kyle says something back to him.. He's looking at Kyle like " how dare you" smh.. https://t.co/9aUX09smFx— Jamal Crawford (@JCrossover) June 6, 2019
Players are watching how the league responds here. To this point in his tenure as commissioner, Silver has been regarded as a comparatively progressive leader, a forward-looking steward who has overseen significant growth in the NBA’s stature (and financial health) in the U.S. and abroad, and a sounding board trusted enough that some players have even been willing to open up to him about their struggles with mental health issues. If his judgment in this case is deemed insufficient, it’s worth wondering how that might wind up impacting Silver’s relationship with players, and what sort of ripple effects that might have.
“Something has to be done, and if the NBA doesn’t figure it out, I think the Players Association may take it into their own hands,” Danny Green said.
Where the league and its players go from here, and how they’ll work together to address issues of boorish fan behavior and player safety, are major issues that will have to be worked on and negotiated in the weeks and months to come. For now, what we’re left with is an ugly incident, a banned billionaire, a new standard punishment for breaking the physical boundary between spectator and participant, and a host of questions—including what happens if, the next time something like this occurs, the player involved doesn’t show the same restraint that Lowry did on Wednesday night.
“Yeah, it could have gone the other way,” Lowry said. “It definitely could have gone bad. But I’m bigger than him as a person. My kids are more important to me than he is to me. So I have to make sure that I always think for my kids first, and that’s what it’s all about.”