Ishbia is wrong; NBA must suspend Jokic for scuffle with Suns owner

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PHOENIX − Regardless of what Suns team owner Mat Ishbia says, the NBA has to suspend Nikola Jokic after the scrum in Game 4 of the Suns-Nuggets second-round playoff series.

“Great win for the Suns last night in an amazing series so far! That should be and is the only story,” Ishbia said on Twitter. “Suspending or fining anyone over last night’s incident would not be right. I have a lot of respect for Jokic and don’t want to see anything like that.”

He makes a good point, but the NBA can’t appear to condone what happened during Game 4.  

For the record, I take no joy in writing this opinion. I don’t want to see Jokic suspended. He’s playing some of the most amazing basketball I’ve ever seen.

Jokic had a triple-double with 30 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists in Game 3?! And he followed that up with a 53-point game with 11 assists in Game 4?!

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If the Suns can beat a team with a guy playing like that, it’s more special for everyone involved. If they lose to a guy playing like that, there’s no shame in it.  

But Jokic gave Ishbia something of a forearm shiver as they were jostling for a ball on the sidelines.

Jokic wasn’t acting like a peacekeeper, and the league is going to have to send a message.

It was a big game, and emotions were high on all sides. Frankly, as sports fights go, this wasn’t much more than having some fun with the boys.

But these things can escalate quickly, and the league can’t have that. Brawls reinforce stereotypes and turn off casual fans.

Also, there is precedent for the NBA to take bold action when these sorts of things come up.

In the 2019 NBA Finals, a fan grabbed Raptors guard Kyle Lowry. That fan, Mark Stevens, a Warriors executive, was suspended for a year and fined $500,000.

We all remember the suspensions handed down after the “Malice in the Palace” brawl between Indiana Pacers players and Detroit Pistons fans.

And the Suns lost a shot at a title after players were suspended for leaving the bench during an intense moment with the San Antonio Spurs in 2007.

Regardless of whether you agreed with any or all of those suspensions, they set the standard.

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Again, this was a relatively minor thing. It looked like Jokic went to get the ball after it went into the crowd, and Suns fans didn’t give it to him as fast as he would have liked. And, it looked like Jokic got annoyed and used his forearm to create a little space between himself and the guy in the green jacket who was sitting next to Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas.

Of course, that guy in the green jacket was Ishbia, who’s getting a crash course in fame. He’s been rich for a while, but now that he’s the guy who signs the checks for Devin Booker and Kevin Durant, he can expect a new level of scrutiny on any and everything he does.

For better or worse, he’s not a normal fan anymore. (It’s a lesson his predecessor had to learn, too.)

Ishbia played college basketball for the famously rough-and-tumble Tom Izzo at Michigan State. Ishbia also was a fan of the Bad Boy Pistons. He doesn’t have a problem when things get a little physical.

The league executive who will have final say on the decision, Joe Dumars, probably has a similar mindset. Dumars, of course, is the Hall of Fame running mate of Isiah Thomas. Together, Thomas and Dumars took down Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan on their way to NBA championships.

But we all have to set all of that aside.

The NBA has to appeal to everyday fans, and they can’t have players out there scaring people.

Frankly, the league missed an opportunity to send that message during the first round when Russell Westbrook acted like a loudmouth bully, threatening a Suns fan who talked trash to him after a game.

This goes both ways.

Fans have to conduct themselves with an uncommon level of decorum during interactions with athletes who are in the heat of competition.

But players have to know where the lines are.

For me, that line is the sidelines.

If a fan comes on to the court and wants to become part of the action, then they deserve whatever they get.

But once a player crosses the sideline, it’s that player’s responsibility to keep his composure.

To repeat, I don’t want to see Jokic suspended. But it has to be done.

The NBA has a league to protect and grow. And precedent has been set several times.

The league can’t appear to condone what happened during Game 4.

Reach Moore at or 602-444-2236. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @SayingMoore.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY