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Column: Equal treatment means more than just a suspension

June 7, 2019
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Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, middle, gestures next to referee Marc Davis (8) near the front row of fans during the second half of Game 3 of basketball's NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Raptors in Oakland, Calif., Wednesday, June 5, 2019. A fan seated courtside for Game 3 of the NBA Finals was ejected after shoving Lowry when the Raptors star crashed into a row of seats while trying to save a ball from going out of bounds on Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Mark Stevens will have to watch on TV when the arena he and his fellow investors are building in San Francisco opens next season with what they hope will be another championship ring ceremony for the Golden State Warriors.

The billionaire venture capitalist’s yearlong punishment for shoving Toronto’s Kyle Lowry courtside during Game 3 of the NBA Finals came down quickly as the NBA tried to get ahead of today’s fast-moving news cycles. The NBA understood it had a public relations — and player relations — crisis on its hands, especially after an initial finals-long suspension drew scorn on social media.

And Stevens was also quick to apologize, though the mea culpa came in the form of a prepared statement. Lowry apparently wasn’t taking calls and, really, who could blame him.

In the NBA’s version of a perfect world, it would all be wrapped up before the playoff series moves back to Toronto. Adam Silver had to be hoping the suspension and $500,000 fine were severe enough to allow the focus to return to basketball in a very competitive NBA Finals.

Well, guess what? They weren’t.

It’s not enough to ban Stevens for a season for shoving and cursing Lowry after the player crashed into courtside seats while chasing a loose ball in the Raptors win.

He needs to be gone from the NBA for good.

That means no more courtside seats. It means no more ownership stake.

Because anything less means the NBA will be holding a team investor to a different standard than it would an average fan.

No, one mistake doesn’t define a person even if it’s made on the biggest stage possible, with a national television audience looking on. And a Google check of the Warriors investor shows him to be a charitable guy who has to be distraught about the way he acted in the heat of the moment.

But wrong is wrong. And there’s no place the NBA needs to be more proactive than among the courtside seats that not only bring fans into the middle of the action but at times right into the middle of players themselves.

Not just for regular fans, like the one who was banned from Jazz games for life after making racial taunts at Russell Westbrook from his courtside seats in Salt Lake City during the regular season.

But for anyone who thinks being able to pay a lot of money for courtside seats means a ticket to be part of the action.

This, of course, wasn’t the first time a fan inserted himself into the spotlight in the NBA playoffs. Rapper Drake was all over social media after standing up and rubbing Toronto coach Nick Nurse’s shoulders during the series against Milwaukee.

That, at least, was kind of cute. This was simply disgusting.

The NBA should be grateful Lowry doesn’t have a quick trigger. Because what was an ugly confrontation could have much worse had Lowry gone after Stevens the way Stevens went after him.

Remember “Malice at the Palace,” the 2004 game in Detroit where the former Ron Artest went into the stands to beat up a fan who threw a drink at him? A brawl breaking out courtside in the NBA Finals would have made that seem like a quibble.

Instead, Lowry took the high road, and walked away. Instead of trying to settle things man to man on the spot, he left it in the hands of the Warriors and the league to make amends.

“Kyle should get some type of bonus for not doing what every human would want to do,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said.

For that alone, his opinion needs to be heard. And Lowry was not shy about saying what he thinks should be done.

“A guy like that, showing his true class, he shouldn’t be a part of our league,” Lowry said. “There’s just no place for that.”

A lot of other people agree, including the very players who most nights ply their craft on a 94-by-50 foot piece of hardwood surrounded by thousands of fans crammed in as closely as can be.

They’re on display like in no other sport, close enough for fans to chat with them and close enough to touch. But that doesn’t mean cursing at them, and it doesn’t mean shoving them when they happen to come your way.

The average fan understands that, for the most part. That’s a big reason why there haven’t been more incidents over the years.

The fact a billionaire investor in the team couldn’t figure it out is baffling at best, sheer arrogance at worst. Fortunately, though, there is a solution.

Make the suspension indefinite. Force Stevens to sell his stake in the Warriors.

Make a statement with a punishment everyone will understand.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

All contents © copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, middle, gestures next to referee Marc Davis (8) near the front row of fans during the second half of Game 3 of basketball's NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Raptors in Oakland, Calif., Wednesday, June 5, 2019. A fan seated courtside for Game 3 of the NBA Finals was ejected after shoving Lowry when the Raptors star crashed into a row of seats while trying to save a ball from going out of bounds on Wednesday night. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)