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Kyle Lowry incident puts NBA fan problem on full display

Kyle Lowry yells at Mark Stevens in the second half of Game 3 after Stevens shoved him.LACHLAN CUNNINGHAM/Getty Images/Getty Images

OAKLAND, Calif. — So the NBA acted swiftly against Warriors minority owner Mark Stevens for shoving Toronto’s Kyle Lowry after Lowry had the audacity to chase a loose ball into the first row during Game 3 of the NBA Finals and make contact with Stevens’s wife.

Lowry never made contact with Stevens yet Stevens felt the right, not privilege, to shove Lowry twice and tell him to “go [expletive] himself” after Lowry collided with a patron two seats to the left and Stevens’s wife next to him.

Stevens was fined $500,000 and banned from NBA games and Warriors team activities for one year. But this subject isn’t going away. The NBA has to deal with player safety before something unfortunate such as the “Malice in the Palace” occurs again.


It’s rather mind-boggling that those wealthy fans who can afford premium seats that are literally just feet from the action get offended when that action is in their laps. Isn’t that why you sit courtside? To get the complete game experience?

Sometimes the game extends beyond the boundaries and that’s part of the experience. But Stevens’s actions are reflective of an entitled billionaire who watches these Warriors games from courtside as if he’s royalty while his peasants entertain him with their athletic prowess.

Once one of those peasants got too close to the Queen, Stevens metaphorically called for Lowry’s head. It speaks to his arrogance that he not only yelled expletives at Lowry but pushed Lowry twice, knowing full well if Lowry responded physically that would be his last NBA game for a long time.

Fans understand this point, that if they push a player to retaliate, they suddenly become the victim. They suddenly can say they were only offering good-natured trash talking.

But Lowry didn’t snap. He pointed out Stevens to the official and to team security. A security official later escorted Stevens off the floor after video footage was clear that he slapped at Lowry without provocation.


Stevens, who is a billionaire venture capitalist with an MBA from Harvard, would never approach the 6-foot-1-inch, 205-pound Lowry in the streets but felt the inherent right to shove the well-trained professional athlete because there would be no reciprocation.

“I think what I think and what I feel is a guy like that shouldn’t be a part of our league,” Lowry said of Stevens. “That’s my personal opinion. That’s just how I feel. 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.

“The second part, yeah, it could have gone the other way. 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.”

The league has a problem. NBA teams sell these exorbitantly high-priced seats just feet away from these mammoth athletes and some fans abuse that privilege by yelling profane remarks or in some cases getting physical.

Commissioner Adam Silver said he spoke with several players in the NBA Finals and throughout the league before levying his suspension. The National Basketball Players Association appears more concerned and pressed to make more changes. LeBron James spoke out via social media to express his disappointment in Stevens only receiving a one-year suspension.


“We’re at a time in our national community where everybody’s sensibilities need to be heightened,” NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said. “We have security at these arenas but there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t thank God that nothing has happened. We have to be hyper-vigilant to make sure that [if] someone who’s a really serious threat to our players is in the arena, we’re prepared for it. I take every serious one of these incidents very serious, obviously I’m glad no one got hurt.

“I’m encouraging the league to hold hands with me and agree: no tolerance for this.”

When asked if she was surprised that the fan was a minority owner, Roberts said: “It’s disappointing. We’re all supposed [to] know better, all of us who work in this league.”

The penalty was essentially minor, fining a billionaire $500,000 is like fining a normal person $100. And he’ll be banned from games and any team activities, which is significant but falls short of being forced to divest his share of the team. Because of the potentially negative publicity that will continue to come from this incident, the Warriors may encourage Stevens to divest.

Silver said Stevens was contrite and apologetic, even soon after the incident when he was interviewed by league officials. Because of that and perhaps because Lowry was uninjured and did not retaliate, Silver gave Stevens a break.


It was one of the few times Silver went soft on discipline.

“It [stinks] that this has to take the front page of the Finals. It’s been a fun Finals. It’s been a competitive Finals. It really [stinks] that this has to take part and had to be a part of it,” Lowry said. “Hopefully the NBA does more and continues to move forward with this. Because at the end of the day, we just want to play basketball. We were playing basketball and we’re trying to win a championship. Our family and our friends are supporting us and watching us, and our colleagues are watching.”

The league can’t wait until something significant or career-altering occurs to act on the relationship between players and fans. The NBA received a warning from this incident, that fans as “noble” as team owners have to control themselves and act like spectators watching the world’s greatest athletes, not as reckless fanatics.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.