OAKLAND, Calif. – Negative fan interaction with NBA players has been a major issue this season, and it grew exponentially worse in Game 3 of the NBA Finals Wednesday night at Oracle Arena when it turned out that a courtside fan who shoved Raptors guard Kyle Lowry and cursed at him was a minority owner of the Warriors named Mark Stevens.
On Thursday, the NBA announced that Stevens had been fined $500,000 and suspended from attending NBA games for one year.
The penalty was handed down after Lowry spoke at the media interview session before practice Thursday afternoon. The Warriors earlier in the day issued an apology to Lowry and banned Stevens from attending the rest of the NBA Finals, and the league issued a statement calling Stevens’ behavior “unacceptable.”
The incident happened early in the fourth quarter when Lowry went into the courtside seats while trying to save a loose ball. Replays showed Stevens pushed him in the back and had an angry verbal exchange that Lowry said included multiple vulgar epithets.
Lowry thanked the Warriors and the NBA for their earlier statements and said, “There’s no room in our game for that. In that situation, I don’t think I could have handled it any better. I understand things could have been a lot different if I reacted in a different way or if I did something or put my hands on him. 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 they have. And I know [majority owner] Joe Lacob. Those guys are great guys. But a guy like [Stevens], showing his true class, shouldn’t be part of our league.”
LeBron James reacted to the incident with a strong statement condemning Stevens in an Instagram post. James said fans in courtside seats understand the risk and know the rules about engaging with players.
“He himself being a fan but more importantly PART-OWNER of the Warriors knew exactly what he was doing, which was so uncalled for,” the Lakers superstar wrote. “Something needs to be done ASAP! A swift action for his actions.”
James added two hashtags: #ProtectThePlayers and #PrivilegeAintWelcomeHere.
Lowry thanked James for his support and praised his “amazing social activism,” saying James “sticks up for his fellow players. He always does the right thing…It means a lot to have the support of him and other players also reaching out.”
Draymond Green of the Warriors praised Lowry for the way he maintained his cool. “For him to handle it the way that he did says a lot about his character, a lot about him as a man and the way he handles himself,” Green said. “The league has really grown in having a no-nonsense approach when it comes to fan-to-player interactions.”
Lowry said that when he learned Stevens was a minority owner, it made the incident that much worse. “I knew it would be a big deal,” Lowry said, “but I didn’t know it would be as big of a deal as him being part of the group that writes the checks.”