NBA playoffs: Nikola Jokić shoves Suns owner Mat Ishbia, draws technical; fan ejected for touching Nuggets center
Sunday's Nuggets-Suns Game 4 produced a wild second-quarter scene involving a two-time MVP, a team owner and a retired Hall of Fame point guard.
With 2:36 left in the second quarter, Suns guard Josh Okogie tumbled into the stands while chasing a loose ball out of bounds. The ball landed in the hands of a fan with courtside seats. Jokić, meanwhile, decided that it was his job to retrieve it. He did so forcefully, yanking the ball out of the hands of the fan who corralled it.
That fan? He's Suns owner Mat Ishbia, who bought the team midseason from exiled former owner Robert Sarver. After Jokić jarred the ball loose, he gave Ishbia a shove to the chest, sending the Suns owner tumbling back into his seat. Ishbia's wearing the green jacket in the video below:
Nikola Jokic shoves Suns Owner Matt Ishbia after trying to get the ball 😬 pic.twitter.com/tnYsILH3kV
— Backcourt Alerts (@BackcourtAlerts) May 8, 2023
Security intervened, and Jokić and Okogie both returned to the court. Another video angle shows Jokić look directly at Ishbia before hitting him with the forearm shiver. Ishbia, a former basketball player at Michigan State and perhaps cognizant of potential trouble facing Jokic, didn't appear to put up much resistance. He fell with his arms flailing back to his seat.
Another fan, meanwhile, grabbed a chunk of Jokić's jersey while a third put his hand on Jokic's left arm.
Nikola! 👀 pic.twitter.com/wzIGj6XNcC
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) May 8, 2023
The fan in the blue shirt who grabbed Jokić's jersey? That was Detroit Pistons Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas, who appeared to have joined Ishbia as his guest. Thomas is a friend of Ishbia's who sits on the board on his mortgage company.
was wondering who to Mat Ishbia’s right got flattened during that skirmish and here is the answer pic.twitter.com/vfUKS6BERd
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) May 8, 2023
Officials went to replay to assess the scene and how to sort it out. The verdict was to issue an unsportsmanlike technical foul to Jokic. Security, meanwhile, escorted the fan in the black shirt who touched Jokic away from the court. There were no penalties for Ishbia or Thomas.
Kevin Durant hit the ensuing technical free throw, and play resumed without further incident. The fracas didn't appear to fluster Jokić, who finished with a game-high 53 points in a 129-124 victory by the Suns — and a bizarre new addition to his highlight reel.
Why wasn't Jokić ejected?
After the game, referee Tony Brothers explained why Jokić was issued a technical foul but not ejected for the contact.
"I just deemed the technical foul the appropriate penalty for what happened over there," Brothers told a pool reporter. "He didn’t just run over and hit a fan. There was some engagement, so I deemed the technical foul the appropriate penalty."
Jokić, meanwhile, told his side of the story while suggesting that he wasn't properly protected in the incident as a player.
Nikola Jokic on the incident with the Suns owner:
"He told me I was elbowing the fan, but the fan put his hands on me first. I thought the league is supposed to protect us. But maybe I'm wrong.”
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) May 8, 2023
“The fan put the hand on me first," Jokić said while declining to say Ishbia's name. "I thought the league's supposed to protect us or whatever. So, but maybe I’m wrong."
He continued after being asked if he realized that the fan was Ishbia.
"He’s a fan, isn’t he?" Jokić continued. "He's sitting on the court, then he’s a fan, isn’t he? ... Whoever it is, he is a fan. He cannot influence the game holding the ball.”
When asked if he was worried about a fine or a suspension, Jokić responded "why?"
"His hand's on me," Jokić continued. "So they're not gonna protect me? They're gonna protect the fan?
"Not me as a person, but I'm talking about as a player. I mean, they can do whatever, of course. They don't care. I think they're supposed to project players. ... I think he's supposed to get kicked out if he's influencing the game."
Game 5 is slated for Denver on Tuesday. The NBA's league office will likely look into the incident to determine if further discipline is warranted.