Phil Barber: Warriors should cut ties with co-owner Mark Stevens after shove

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OAKLAND — At first, it was hard to figure out what was happening. Toronto’s Kyle Lowry attempted to save a ball from going out of bounds with 10:37 left in the Warriors’ loss to the Raptors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night, and he looked upset about something. Lowry engaged with someone in the first row of seating, then barked at officials through the ensuing timeout.

“I was furious,” Lowry said before Toronto practiced Thursday at Oracle. “I’m not going to lie.”

The Oracle Arena crowd booed. The fans thought Lowry should pipe down.

The facts emerged in stages. Someone posted a video showing that after Lowry crashed into the stands, a spectator reached over and shoved him. Lowry claims the man told the prone player to “go (blank) yourself” several times.

Not good. But not as bad as what emerged Thursday morning, as first reported by Axios. The confrontational “fan” was much more than that. He is Mark Stevens, part of the Warriors ownership group since 2013. A representative of the home team, a man with a financial stake in its wins and losses, had laid hands upon an opposing player.

“I thought, for him to do that, he’s got to be a regular fan that just got those seats from somebody, not knowing any better,” Toronto’s Danny Green said. “When it came out, I was shocked, and a little appalled, about his behavior.”

And so we have another entry in the lengthening ledger of customers crossing the line of decorum at sporting events. Give Stevens credit; being a minority owner gives his offense a certain creative panache.

Stevens’ shove also represents an extreme example of the trait that binds a lot of modern-day fan misbehavior: entitlement. Sometimes it’s just a drunken loudmouth who believes the $50 he paid for a ticket gives him the right to curse out an opposing player. But for someone like Stevens, who can afford a courtside seat at an NBA Finals game, the entitlement runs much deeper.

I was talking with Warriors coach Steve Kerr recently, and I mentioned that I had heard him interviewed on Michael Lewis’ new podcast, “Against the Rules,” which is about Americans’ growing mistrust of the referees in business, politics, law — and yes, basketball.

“My favorite part was the thing about the research study,” Kerr said.

I knew what he was talking about. Lewis referenced a UC Berkeley study in which researchers observed a busy four-way intersection and graded the passing cars on their make, age and appearance. They found that 100% of drivers in the most beat-up category of cars dutifully stopped for a pedestrian (a confederate in the study), while 40% of most-expensive-car drivers barreled through the crosswalk.

That’s entitlement, quantified and documented.

I’ll bet Mark Stevens, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, drives a really nice car. He may be a decent person in many ways. I tried calling his home, but got a family answering machine with a cute kid’s voice — a reminder that we’re talking about human beings here and there is no need for cheap shots. But what, other than entitlement, could lead a 59-year-old part-owner of the Warriors to engage physically and profanely with a likable player such as Kyle Lowry?

“He showed his true colors at the time,” Lowry said. “And you show what you’re really about in that time and at that moment. And it’s not, oh, you get the reaction of everyone else saying this, that, and the other. … I mean, no, you showed what you really are.”

Andre Iguodala, the Warriors’ often-inscrutable sage, had some thoughts on that subject, too. And he expanded the concept of entitlement.

“The climate we’re in now, no one’s afraid to really express themselves,” Iguodala said. “There’s incentives to be brave with who you truly are.”

Asked what he meant by that, Iguodala said, “I mean, people aren’t afraid to be who they are. You just pay attention to the news.”

I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that Iguodala was referring to the uptick in racist, misogynist and otherwise bigoted speech we’ve been subjected to in the past couple of years. Combine that with the cozy anonymity (or at least the safety) of social media, and we are increasingly faced with a world where people say anything they want to anybody.

That doesn’t have much to do with sports. But what chaps athletes about situations like Wednesday’s is the double standard.

“If a fan says whatever they want to you and then you say something back, you’re fined,” Draymond Green said Thursday. “If Kyle was to then hit back, a lot more than a fine would have then happened to Kyle. In a situation where you’re essentially helpless, you’re always going to be vulnerable in anything in life.”

As Danny Green put it: “I don’t disrespect you, come to your job and heckle you, hassle you or talk about your family, so don’t do it to me.”

They’re right. If players were allowed to scream at fans or grab them by the collars, games would descend into bedlam. So they’re not. They are governed by a strict code of conduct.

More and more, though, fans are crossing the line in the other direction. We saw it in Salt Lake City in March when a Jazz fan reportedly used racist language to insult the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook. And now we have seen it much closer to home, in an arena we are trying to celebrate.

In the immediate wake of Stevens’ actions, Lowry’s teammates — and some of the Warriors — called for swift action. They got it. Thursday afternoon, the NBA and the Warriors jointly announced that they were banning Stevens from all NBA games and all Warriors activities for one year, and fining him $500,000.

Good for the NBA. The NFL probably would have investigated for six months and levied a two-week suspension along with a sharp scolding. The NBA is way ahead on these issues.

But was it enough? Forbes estimates Stevens’ net worth at $2.3 billion. For him, a fine of $500,000 is the equivalent of $54.35 for someone whose net worth is $250,000, or a chunk of equity in a Bay Area home but not much else. It’s a slap on Stevens’ Rolex-heavy wrist.

The suspension is probably a bigger deal for someone who runs in elite social circles. But the question remains: Why would the Warriors want someone like this in their ownership group? Stevens’ transgression didn’t happen away from the court. It was directly related to basketball. He broke the covenant.

For that, Mark Stevens has to go. Forbes describes him as a self-made man. He’s obviously really good at business. But he’s bad at owning an NBA team, and he should sell his stake in the Warriors immediately.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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