Phoenix Suns’ new majority owner Mat Ishbia found himself in the middle of the action from his corner front-row seat during a tense playoff game between the Suns and the Denver Nuggets Sunday at the Footprint Center in Phoenix.
With 2:36 remaining in the second quarter of Game 4 of the second-round playoff series, Suns guard Josh Okogie chased a loose ball into the stands, which Ishbia grabbed. Nuggets center and two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic ran over and tried to take the ball back from Ishbia, but it popped further into the stands.
There was a push by Ishbia and an elbow by Jokic that knocked the novice owner and former Michigan State basketball player back into his seat. Isiah Thomas, NBA great and a close friend of Ishbia’s, and another unidentified fan came to Ishbia’s defense. The fan was escorted out of the arena by security.
The officials evaluated the incident and gave Jokic a technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct. Kevin Durant converted the technical.
“[The officials] told me I was elbowing the fan,” said Jokic, who scored a game-high 53 points in nearly 40 minutes during the Suns’ 129-124 win, which evened up the series at 2-2. “The fan put his hand on me first. I thought the league was supposed to protect us. Maybe I’m wrong, so we will see.”
When Jokic was told the fan was the Suns owner, he brushed it off.
“I know who he is. … He’s sitting by the court, so he’s a fan, isn’t he?” he said. “He can’t influence the game by holding the ball.”
Sportico asked Ishbia for comment as he left his seat after the game, but he declined.
“I’m not going to talk now. I’m going to talk to media in a minute,” said the CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage, who purchased control of the Suns and the Phoenix Mercury at an NBA record $4 billion valuation from scandal-ridden former owner Robert Sarver. The sale was agreed upon in December and finalized in February, right before the NBA trade deadline.
Ishbia subsequently didn’t make himself available to the media.
The NBA will evaluate reports of the incident ahead of Game 5 in Denver Tuesday night. The series has evened back up after the Suns lost the first two games on the road. Also, Phoenix lost veteran guard Chris Paul to a groin injury, which has forced Devin Booker and Kevin Durant to step up their games. Booker scored 83 points across the two home games, and Durant 74. Each had 36 points Sunday.
Jokic has dominated this series, logging a triple-double and 30 points in Game 3 before his 53 points Sunday. His loss would be a devastating blow to the Nuggets chances.
Jokic, though, dismissed the notion of any NBA discipline.
“So, they’re not going to protect me, they’re going to protect the fan?” he said. “I’m not talking about me personally, but as a player. They can do whatever they want. They don’t care. I was trying to get the ball, and he wouldn’t let it go. He was trying to influence the game, I think. He should have been kicked out.”
Monday morning, Ishbia echoed the sentiment in a tweet. “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 night’s incident would not be right. I have a lot of respect for Jokic and don’t want to see anything like that. Excited for game 5! Go Suns!”
Later Monday, the NBA fined Jokic $25,000 for his part in the incident.
(This story has been updated with Ishbia’s Tweet from Monday morning and with the news that Jokic has been fined.)