EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Will Nikola Jokic be suspended for pushing Mat Ishbia?

May 7, 2023, 10:17 PM | Updated: May 8, 2023, 10:08 am

PHOENIX — Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia caught a loose ball at his seat and held onto it long enough for Nuggets center Nikola Jokic to walk up and rip it from his hands.

Ishbia fell to his seat, and you can watch the video to form your own opinion as to whether the former college basketball walk-on had just, from the first row, flopped his opponent’s best player into a technical foul.

It came as an offensive showcase between Jokic and Phoenix’s Devin Booker was brewing in an eventual 129-124 Suns win that evened the Western Conference semifinals at 2-2.

Just when it seemed like this was a night where magical shot-making would be the main storyline — Jokic finished with 53 points and Booker scored 36 — “Pushbia” happened.

That was where the Suns’ new owner, with less than three minutes to go in the first half, found himself engaged in the action.

Is that a problem for him? He clearly clutched the ball harder and impeded play.

Since he doesn’t play basketball for the Suns, it’s obviously a bigger concern for Denver and Jokic if the NBA doesn’t see any acting done on the owner’s part.

From the Nuggets’ perspective, with a potential suspension on the line from a league that has a history of attempting to fend off fan-player interactions, there should be a teensy bit of worry.

In the game, Jokic was given an unsportsmanlike technical for shoving Ishbia.

That’s now on the docket for NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

After the Suns’ win on Sunday, a pool report with official Tony Brothers confirmed it was for Jokic pushing the fan who had held onto the ball for several seconds, which was Ishbia.

Jokic believes he was pushed first.

“(A referee) 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,” Jokic said.

“Whoever it is, he’s a fan. He cannot influence the game by holding the ball,” Jokic said. “I think he’s supposed to get kicked out if he’s influencing the game.”

The Suns arena staff did eject at least one individual, who entered the fray from behind the first row and pushed Jokic late in the sequence.

It wasn’t clear if Jokic or Nuggets coach Michael Malone knew in the moment just who the fan who drew the technical was, but the latter defended the Nuggets center.

“I haven’t seen a video of it,” Malone said. “I think it’s crazy that Nikola got a technical foul in that situation. Going to get the ball, and some fan is holding onto the ball who wants be a part of the game. Just give the ball up, man.

“They deemed Nikola doing something that was excessive, I guess, and gave him the tech, but I still don’t really understand it.”

Asked if he knew that Phoenix’s owner was the involved fan and if it mattered, Malone added: “I don’t give a (expletive). I really don’t care.”

Of course, the context in Phoenix is obvious.

It was Silver’s predecessor, David Stern, who handed Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw suspensions in 2007 during a second-round series when they left the bench in defense of teammate Steve Nash hitting the scorer’s table when Spurs forward Robert Horry shoved him.

This is a different leader with a different rule to interpret and a different time — the Stoudemire-Diaw suspensions were three years after the Malice at the Palace made the NBA quick to come down hard.

But what does the rulebook say?

Will Nikola Jokic be suspended for pushing Mat Ishbia?

Under the “player conduct” portion of the NBA rulebook, it’s an automatic ejection for “deliberately entering the stands other than as a continuance of play.”

Whether that is enough to earn a suspension, well, is hard to say.

Jokic said he was trying to get the ball back during the dead ball because he saw a five-on-four situation going the other way. You could wonder if that would pass for “continuance of play” should the Nuggets need to defend their best player against a suspension in the NBA’s court of law.

And by the way, the rulebook makes clear that “the first row of seats is considered the beginning of the stands.”

What did the referees see?

“The ball went over into the corner there and one of the fans was holding the ball,” Brothers said, according to a pool report. “Jokic came to get the ball, grabbed it away from the fan, then after that he deliberately gave him a shove and pushed him down, so he was issued an unsportsmanlike technical foul.”

The final Brothers comment on the matter might indicate that Jokic could be safe from suspension. Here, we’ll note that “punching” has its own section in the rule book.

“I just deemed the technical foul the appropriate penalty for what happened over there,” Brothers said. “He didn’t just run over and hit a fan. There was some engagement, so I deemed the technical foul the appropriate penalty.”

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Will Nikola Jokic be suspended for pushing Mat Ishbia?