OAKLAND, Calif. — A confrontation between an NBA minority owner and a star player was met with swift and forceful punishment Thursday.
The NBA announced that Golden State Warriors investor Mark Stevens has been banned from attending league games and participating in team activities for one year after he repeatedly cursed at and shoved Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry during Wednesday’s Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Stevens also was fined $500,000.
“A team representative must be held to the highest possible standard,” the league said in a statement. “The conduct of Golden State Warriors investor Mark Stevens last night was beyond unacceptable and has no place in our league.”
The incident between Lowry and Stevens occurred early in the fourth quarter of Toronto’s 123-109 victory. As Lowry chased a loose ball toward the sideline, he crashed into multiple fans in courtside seats. Before Lowry could pull himself up and reenter the court, Stevens shoved him with his left arm and engaged him in a verbal exchange.
Lowry, who asked the referees to eject Stevens, told reporters that Stevens had repeatedly told him to “go f--- yourself.” At least one of Lowry’s teammates heard the remarks.
“Mr. Stevens’ behavior last night did not reflect the high standards that we hope to exemplify as an organization,” the Warriors said in a statement. “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.”
In explaining the league’s verdict, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he chose not to ban Stevens for life because he was “contrite” and “extraordinarily apologetic” throughout the league’s investigation and because he had "no [prior] “blemishes” during his tenure with the Warriors.
“We recognize it’s not a science when making these decisions,” Silver told reporters. “A one-year ban seemed appropriate together with the fine.”
Warriors Coach Steve Kerr personally apologized to Lowry and the Raptors on behalf of his organization Thursday, and Golden State stars Stephen Curry and Draymond Green both commended Lowry’s response in the heat of the moment.
“Players are definitely vulnerable,” Green said. “If Kyle was to hit back, a lot more than a fine would have then happened to Kyle. You have to give Kyle a lot of credit in the way he handled it. 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.”
Stevens, a venture capitalist who Forbes has reported is worth $2.3 billion, joined the Warriors’ ownership group and became a member of the franchise’s executive board in 2013 after purchasing the equity interests that were previously held by Vivek Ranadive, who had to sell his shares after becoming co-owner of the Sacramento Kings.
In a statement, Stevens said that there was “no excuse” for his behavior and that he has tried to reach out to members of both organizations, including Lowry, to apologize.
“I take full responsibility for my actions and am embarrassed by what transpired,” the statement said. “What I did was wrong. I hope that Mr. Lowry and others impacted by this lapse in judgement understand that the behavior I demonstrated last night does not reflect the person I am or have been throughout my life. I made a mistake and am truly sorry. I fully accept the punishment.”
Lowry thanked the Warriors for their public apology but said he had not directly communicated with Stevens about the incident. The Raptors star, who admitted he was “furious” following the incident, added that he had no interest in such a conversation. He repeatedly called on the NBA to ban Stevens before the league issued its judgment.
“I don’t know him,” said Lowry, a 33-year-old veteran of 13 NBA seasons. “I don’t care to know him. He showed his true colors at the time. He’s not a good look for the ownership group that they have. I know [Warriors owner] Joe Lacob. The ownership that they have that I know, they’re unbelievable guys. But a guy like [Stevens], showing his true class, shouldn’t be a part of our league. There’s just no place for that.”
Hostile interactions between players and fans in courtside seats have been an ongoing subplot during this NBA season. The Utah Jazz banned two fans from its home arena in March over separate incidents involving Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook. The Boston Celtics banned a young supporter for this season and next over a January incident involving the Warriors’ DeMarcus Cousins.
Stevens’s status as an investor in the Warriors added an extra degree of outrage on behalf of some players, who believe they are regularly under attack from fans but have no recourse to respond.
National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts expressed her support for a “zero-tolerance policy with respect to verbal and/or physical assaults” that should apply regardless of Stevens’s “status as a member of the ownership group.” And Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, who has long been outspoken on behalf of protecting players, demanded “swift action" from the NBA.
“There’s absolutely no place in our BEAUTIFUL game for that AT ALL,” James wrote on Instagram. “When you sit courtside you absolutely know what comes with being on the floor and if you don’t know it’s on the back on the ticket itself that states the guidelines. But he himself being a fan but more importantly PART-OWNER of the Warriors knew exactly what he was doing which was so uncalled for. He knew the rules more than just the average person sitting watching the game courtside so for that Something needs to be done ASAP!"
In recent weeks, reports surfaced that NBA teams were considering no longer using the term “owner” because of its racially insensitive nature. Green first expressed his distaste for the term two years ago because of its connotations to slavery and its dehumanization of athletes.
Lowry said Wednesday’s incident made him feel as if Stevens viewed him as an asset rather than as a fellow human being.
“I can say for sure that guy makes me feel like that,” Lowry said. “Mark Stevens makes me feel like he’s one of those guys [who views players as assets]. I remember [Green] saying that. I believe it’s true. We call it the Board of Governors [in the NBA], but people in the world call it the ownership. It should be changed. A guy like that definitely shows that’s what he feels.”
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