The NBA has fined Nikola Jokić $25,000 but won't suspend him over his courtside altercation with Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia.
The NBA announced the fine for "improper contact with a spectator sitting courtside" on Monday.
The incident took place during the second quarter of Sunday's Game 4 between the Suns and Denver Nuggets, which Phoenix won 129-124. Jokić went into the courtside seats to retrieve a loose ball that had bounced out of bounds. Ishbia had corralled the ball and held on to it as Jokić tried to take it from him.
Jokić pried the ball loose, then shoved a standing Ishbia with his forearm as Ishbia touched Jokić's lower back with his right hand. Ishbia went tumbling back to his seat with his arms flailing.
Nikola Jokic shoves Suns Owner Matt Ishbia after trying to get the ball 😬 pic.twitter.com/tnYsILH3kV
— Backcourt Alerts (@BackcourtAlerts) May 8, 2023
Another angle shows Jokić and Ishbia making eye contact before the shove. It also shows former Detroit Pistons guard Isiah Thomas — a guest of Ishbia's — grabbing Jokić's jersey after the shove. A third unidentified man in a black shirt puts his right hand on Jokic's left arm.
The scuffle came to an end as another fan who'd picked up the ball threw it back to Suns forward Josh Okogie, who'd fallen into the seats while chasing it out of bounds. Officials stopped play to review the incident, and Jokić was assessed a technical foul but not ejected. Security escorted the fan in the black shirt from the arena, but Ishbia and Thomas were allowed to remain in their seats.
Jokić scored a career-playoff-high 53 points in the game, but Phoenix earned a 5-point win to tie the Western Conference semifinal series 2-2. The series shifts back to Denver on Tuesday for a critical Game 5 that will put the loser on the brink of elimination.
After the game, referee Tony Brothers explained the decision to assess a technical foul to Jokić but not eject him.
"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, scoffed at the idea that he could face further discipline from the league for entering the courtside seats and shoving Ishbia. Without saying Isbhia's name, Jokić argued that the Suns owner attempted to influence the game. He also said that Ishbia was the aggressor and that the league failed to protect him in the scuffle as a player.
"He’s a fan, isn’t he?" Jokić said. "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. ...
"His hand's on me. 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 protect players. ... I think he's supposed to get kicked out if he's influencing the game."
On Monday, Isbhia released a statement that suspending Jokić or fining anyone "would not be right."
"Great win for the Suns last night in an amazing series so far!" Ishbia's statement reads. "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 Jokić and don’t want to see anything like that. Excited for game 5! Go Suns!"
Ishbia is the NBA's newest owner, having taken control of the team early this season after former owner Robert Sarver was pressured to sell following a workplace misconduct scandal. Jokić, a two-time league MVP, is averaging 29.3 points, 12.5 rebounds and 8.8 assists while shooting 52.8% from the field and 47.2% from 3-point distance this postseason. Each team is seeking its first NBA championship.