During game three of the NBA Finals Wednesday, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry leapt out of bounds chasing after a loose ball. A fan shoved Lowry and repeatedly told him to “go fuck [himself].” That “fan” was Mark Stevens, a billionaire tech capitalist and minority owner of the Warriors.
It’s hard to imagine a clearer example of the hubris of our elite, and why even millionaire athletes are treated like shit by their employers.
Of course, the incident took place in the context of the championship series of a professional sport, with all the piles of cash and millions of eyeballs such series entail. But fundamentally, this was an incident of an owner assaulting a worker on the shop floor. The league’s predictably weak response and slap-on-the-wrist punishment for Stevens remind us that for all the NBA’s posturing about progressivism, the workplace that is the professional basketball court remains sleekly packaged but deeply unequal.
The NBA suspended Stevens for a year and fined him $500,000. Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement, “given how contrite Mr. Stevens was, the fact that he was extraordinarily apologetic, the fact that he had no blemishes on his prior involvement with the NBA or the Warriors … a one-year ban seemed appropriate together with the fine.”
A managing partner at venture capitalist firm S-Cubed Capital and previously at Sequoia Capital, Stevens is worth $2.3 billion. Fining him half a million dollars for assaulting Lowry is the equivalent of fining Lowry $6,000 for the same offense. In April, after bumping an official, Houston’s Chris Paul, who earned less this year than Lowry, was fined $35,000. This sort of inequality should replace Jerry West as the NBA’s logo.
In 2004 a Detroit Pistons fan threw a drink at Indiana Pacer Ron Artest, leading to the infamous “Malice At The Palace” brawl between fans and players. Three Pacers — Artest, Stephen Jackson, and Jermaine O’Neal — lost a combined $10 million in salary after the league handed out its punishments. And an almost entirely white ownership instituted a dress code on its predominantly black labor force, hoping to “clean up” the league’s image.
The message was clear: the existence of unjust labor conditions — fan abuse has typically been justified as “part of the job,” while players are expected to develop a “thick skin” and owners sit in luxury boxes far above it all raking in the profits — was less a concern than labor getting uppity in response to those conditions. But when a boss puts his hands on a worker and tells him to “go fuck yourself” … well, at least he was “contrite.”
NBC’s Dylan Byers reports Stevens will likely be forced to sell his ownership shares before his suspension is up. If he does, Stevens will earn a $180 million profit. The worst punishment he could face will be a massive boost to his bottom line.
How does the league’s response to Stevens give the next tech capitalist pause before physically or verbally assaulting a player? “Something has to be done, and if the NBA doesn’t figure it out, I think the Players Association may take it into their own hands,” Toronto’s Danny Green said after the game.
What happened Wednesday night was as clear an indication as possible: even if you make a lot of money at your job, your boss is playing by a different set of rules.