Nevius: NBA needs to rethink courtside seating

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There are several ways to look at the incident where Toronto’s Kyle Lowry was shoved by a Warriors fan in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

There’s a point to be made for everyone — except Mark Stevens, the guy who shoved Lowry and then reached deep into his inner 10th-grade brain and cursed him. He doesn’t have a point. That’s just wrong and stupid. And the fact that he turns out to be a part owner just makes it more wrong and more stupid.

Lowry definitely has a point. And so does the NBA Players’ Association, which is pushing this incident hard. They want to make it a test case for the league.

And they should. The verbal abuse the players receive — from foghorn fans standing a foot away — is shocking. There’s no other word for it. Almost nothing is off limits. It is enough to make you question humanity.

If there is even the slightest possibility that touching or pushing a player would be tolerated, that possibility must be extinguished immediately. This should be an NFL referee kind of deal. You touch ’em, you’re out.

I’d even propose a no-tolerance plan. If a fan shoves a player or, God forbid, throws a punch, the ref stops the game. They go straight to the video. If it shows a violation, you put the clip on the overhead screen in the arena so everyone can see it.

And then, with the game still stopped, you frog-march the guy out of the arena. Further discipline to follow.

So we’re firm on that.

However …

The seats are too damn close to the court. It’s ridiculous. There is barely room to take the ball out of bounds without running the risk of dunking your trunks in somebody’s drink.

And in today’s arena, fans are basically sold seats on the bench with the players. The guy next to you might be an assistant coach. How long before someone grabs Steve Kerr’s arm to offer him some advice?

The close proximity just increases the chances of incidents like this.

But there is a bigger concern. Someone is going to be seriously injured. If you watch the video, you see that the woman in yellow that Lowry hit got blasted.

Lowry probably launched himself 10 feet away from her and flew in unchecked. She was knocked uncontrollably backwards, and if a restraining barrier hadn’t caught her chair, she could have crashed all the way back and hit her head on the concrete.

The collision was another day at the office for an NFL linebacker, but for your average, middle-aged fan, sitting in a folding chair, it could have been a life-changing moment.

She’s lucky she didn’t end up with a concussion. Or worse. But that doesn’t mean someone else won’t. Someone could break their neck. Seriously.

Players, it has to be said, fly into the stands all the time. They’ve learned that, for the most part, they can land in the laps of fans and emerge uninjured.

You can’t tell them not to try to save the ball. And you don’t want to make a rule about no diving.

But what you can do is move the seats back two rows. That creates an open area in front of the fans where a player could leap, land and throw the ball back in play. At that point a player would have to be trying to reach the seats to land there.

Of course, you know the problem with that. It’s all about the Benjamins. NBA teams sell those spots for thousands and thousands of dollars. They don’t want to move the seats back.

But you know another sport that resisted changes to make watching the game safer? Baseball. As always with the grand old game, it took awhile, but the decision was finally made to extend the safety netting down the first- and third-base sides.

The image of a 100-mph foul ball or a lethal bat shard hitting a fan was too vivid to ignore, and there may be even more precautions to come after the recent incident involving a child in Houston. To the NBA I’d say, take another look at the shot that woman took. Then tell us you are not concerned that someone will be seriously hurt.

And then do something about it.

Finally, there is the question of whether Stevens should sell his stake in the Warriors.

I say no.

Stevens has been suspended for a year and fined $500,000. He’s apologized. The team has apologized. Kerr has apologized. The franchise has apologized. Stevens has asked to meet with Lowry to say he is sorry in person and he has offered to write a check to a charity of Lowry’s choice. (That last one sounds a little rich guy payoff-y, by the way.)

I get that having him sell would be symbolic. But it isn’t as if he’s been a public figure with the team. Nobody even knew he was a part owner until this happened.

The real blowback is that Stevens has been publicly shamed. And as owner Joe Lacob’s wife can tell you, getting blow-torched by the social media vigilantes is no fun.

I wonder if Stevens has had to change his phone number yet? My guess is he will be dealing with this for a long time.

That’s punishment enough.

Contact C.W. Nevius at cw.nevius@pressdemocrat.com. Twitter: @cwnevius

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