SALT LAKE CITY — It was quite a spectacle, last Wednesday, when Toronto’s Kyle Lowry tumbled out of bounds, only to be shoved by a minority owner of the Golden State Warriors. The moment triggered howls of indignation.
It should have.
This wasn’t World Wrestling Entertainment. It was Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
You don’t want fans touching players under any circumstances.
Still, if the Raptors win the NBA championship Monday in Toronto, don’t be surprised if entertainer Drake — instead of a coach or player — cuts down the nets. Front-row fans are taking an active part in the games these days.
It’s not like fan-player interactions haven’t happened in bygone years. But nowadays there’s social media to keep it alive. Chicago’s Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier went into the grandstands one night after someone beaned Van Lier with an aerosol can. Ron Artest got a season-long ban for his involvement in a fan fight in Detroit.
It wasn’t unusual to see the late Larry H. Miller getting chippy with the likes of L.A.’s Elden Campbell from his courtside seat, though he also exchanged friendly banter with others.
In non-physical confrontations, the Jazz recently banned a couple of fans for life after determining they had directed racial invectives at Russell Westbrook. A fan in Boston this season was barred two years for verbally abusing the Warriors’ DeMarcus Cousins. A Sixers fan stood face-to-face to confront Lowry in an earlier playoff round.
In general, fan-player interactions are being dealt with quickly. Mark Stevens, the Warriors part-owner who shoved Lowry, has been banished for a year and fined $500,000. The shove wasn’t hard enough to hurt, but what if Lowry injures his back or twists a knee?
Lowry said Stevens also taunted him with vulgarities.
With the series back in Toronto for Game 5, the ball is now in Drake’s court. Heaven knows what he’ll do if the Raptors wrap up the championship.
The Lowry-Stevens incident appears to have been treated as a random occurrence. Traditional and social media haven’t always been so kind with Utahns. A picture of a Jazz fan appearing to mock Derek Fisher’s cancer-stricken daughter made the rounds several years ago. Former player Stephen Jackson has long claimed Utah is the worst place to play in the NBA. Draymond Green has, on various occasions, concurred.
Still, in both this week’s Warriors’ controversy and the Jazz’s past issues, it’s not the entire crowd to blame. It’s a few people in need of a chill pill.
Critics blasted the aberrant Warriors’ fan. Nathaniel Friedman, a writer for Victory Journal and GQ tweeted, “If Kyle Lowry walked into Mark Stevens’ office and shoved him he would be arrested.”
That’s a fair point. But others have gone further, hinting that he’s a racist and an opportunist, when all that’s really known about Stevens is that he’s wealthy and he cares way too much about basketball.
It’s not hard to trace how Stevens lost control. The Warriors are an injury-plagued team on the ropes. He has a financial stake in the outcome. Emotions are high. Meanwhile, Drake — a fanatic Raptors fan — has been pulling non-physical stunts throughout the playoffs, such as patting the Raptors coach on the back and smirking in the faces of opposing players.
Before the Finals began, the NBA contacted Drake and his manager about the performer’s sideline involvement.
Here’s a fun factoid about all sports fans everywhere: Normally reasonable people sometimes become jerks.
Jazz management can’t be enjoying the Lowry incident in Oakland, but it knows it’s not alone in its efforts to keep fans from crossing the line. After this season’s Boston incident, Celtics coach Brad Stevens told media, "Hopefully it's a reminder for everyone here and everywhere else: Cheer for your team, cheer loudly, enjoy it. Hopefully appreciate the guys on both sides.”
A more effect approach might be the one used by missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Don’t swear and don’t get closer than arm’s length.