On Sunday May 7th, in the midst of a back-and-forth game at the Footprint Center, with 2:36 remaining in the 2nd quarter, the multi-layered play of the night unraveled between Suns’ guard Josh Okogie, Nuggets’ center Nikola Jokic, and Suns’ owner Mat Ishbia.
After a blocked shot by Jokic on a DeAndre Ayton layup attempt, Okogie and Nuggets’ guard Jamal Murray raced towards the corner to retrieve the loose ball. As the two players neared the baseline, Murray bailed out just as Okogie grabbed hold of the basketball and fell out of bounds.
Tumbling into the courtside fans, Okogie completely lost control of the ball and attempted to brace his fall, jumping over two cameramen and falling into a fan’s lap in the first row. With Okogie on the ground and possession awarded to the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic, on his way to a 53-point night, had 5-on-4 at the front of his mind, as he shrewdly rushed to reclaim the lost basketball.
However, the one man standing in his way was the unrelenting Suns’ owner and former Michigan State basketball player, Mat Ishbia.
Ishbia, aside from spelling his first name with just one “t,” also stands at a daunting 5’10” and weighs 175lbs but managed to leave a large imprint on Game 4 with his 2nd quarter antics.
As Jokic approached Ishbia, who firmly held the live basketball under his arm, he locked eyes with the Suns’ owner and extended his arms to clearly indicate his intention to retrieve the basketball. Likely aware of the situation considering his basketball background, Ishbia reluctantly held onto the ball as Jokic ripped it free of his grasp. The ball flew back into the second row where Jokic could not reach it.
Upset that Ishbia, a fan, had interfered with the game, Jokic gently shoved the Suns’ owner with his forearm as he looked to get the ball. Ishbia did his best Denzel Washington impression, flailing his arms in the air and falling down into his chair as if he had been struck by a strong gust of wind.
A fan in the second row, who wound up with the basketball, tossed it over several heads in the direction of Jokic’s vertically extended arms, but it was too late. Just as Jokic was about to get the ball he had gone through hell and back to retrieve, the once grounded Okogie stood back on his feet, tipped the ball away from Jokic, and exited the crowd with “possession.”
Jokic then looked back to the crowd with his palms up and a confused look on his face, wondering why the fan, Ishbia, did not let go of the ball. Jokic was charged with a technical foul for shoving Ishbia in the scuffle, but Ishbia kept his seat?
Well, it’s tough to kick the owner of the arena out of his own arena, but rules are rules.
Typically, a fan who interferes with the game is ejected on the spot. Ishbia, who clearly disrupted the flow of the game, should have been asked to move to a box.
Owner or not, he’s wrong. When you're sitting on the floor with other fans, you're a fan. Ishbia is not bigger than the game, and based on his recent tweet, he seems to know that.
“Great win for the Suns last night in an amazing series so far! That should be and is the only story. Suspending or fining anyone over last nights incident would not be right. I have alot of respect for Jokic and don’t want to see anything like that. Excited for game 5! Go Suns!”
When asked about the altercation in the post-game interview, Jokic said, “The fan put their hands on me first. I thought the league was supposed to protect us, but maybe I'm wrong… I know he's an owner but he's a fan, isn't he? Whoever he is, he cannot influence the game by holding the ball… I think he's supposed to get kicked out if he's influencing the game.”
When asked why he went to get the ball instead of letting one of the referees retrieve it, Jokic said, “Because Okogie was on the ground, and we had advantage 5-on-4.”
Nuggets’ head coach Michael Malone said, “… some fan is holding onto the ball like he wants to be part of the game… just give the ball up man, you know what I mean?”
When asked a follow-up question about whether the fan in question being Suns’ owner Mat Ishbia made a difference, Malone said, “I don’t give a s***… I really don’t care.”
In the end, Jokic will not be suspended for Game 5, but he was fined $25,000 for his actions, with which I disagree. In a chance to steal a possession, he had to go out of his way to wrestle the basketball from a fan who was unwilling to cooperate.
Ishbia is an owner when he’s upstairs in his box seats, but on the floor, he's no different than any other courtside fan, and he should be treated that way. At the bare minimum, "send him to his room" upstairs to the box seats.