Sixteen years ago, Phoenix Suns star forward Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were infamously suspended for an all-important Game 5 of the Conference Semi-Finals were breaking league rules during an altercation.
The Suns had just tied the hotly contested series 2-2 and were looking forward to Game 5 at home against the San Antonio Spurs when they heard the news that Amare and Boris had broken a league rule by venturing more than 10 feet from the bench area during an on-court, dead ball altercation.
Let’s walk down memory lane. You can see Amare skipping over to check on Nash. Diaw is there too.
NBA Commissioner David Stern smugly chided the Suns and their fans for thinking the league would simply ignore an altercation rule — in place to prevent escalation that could overflow into the stands — just because of the gravity of the circumstances. A rule is a rule, especially when it comes to violence.
That rule was in place and hotly enforced because of a much bigger altercation that had occurred just three years prior, when Ron Artest ran into the stands during an altercation and attacked a fan.
Several players were suspended for the rest of the year in the aftermath of that game, and since then the league has had a zero-tolerance policy on any negative interactions between players and fans, just to make sure the Malace at the Palace never happens again.
So here we are.
Jokic just shoved Mat Ishbia pic.twitter.com/adW03mmExW— Cage (@ridiculouscage) May 8, 2023
Fairly innocuous. The Suns fan who grabbed Jokic’s arm (not Ishbia) was ejected from the arena, and Jokic was given a technical for “deliberately” giving the fan a shove and “pushing him down”.
Official Pool Report interview with Tony Brothers on the Nikola Jokic incident, which ruled he "deliberately gave [Mat Ishbia] a shove and pushed him down." pic.twitter.com/QfIsUDZRnx— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) May 8, 2023
No, Mat Isbhia wasn’t in danger. Yes, Jokic probably thought he was shoving the guy who’d made contact with him.
But more COULD have happened as a result of that shove, and that’s why the league has the rules in place that it has. Artest had a drink spilled on him by a fan first, and then chased that fan down. He didn’t get a pass because the fan started it.
Jokic never should have gotten himself in that situation. Nikola Jokic didn’t just run up to the first row of the stands to retrieve a basketball. He ran up, exchanged angry words with a bunch of fans, got into their space, and physically shoved one of them down while he grabbed the basketball back.
Who cares, ultimately, that the ‘fan’ was Suns owner Mat Ishbia. Jokic appeared not to even register the fan’s identity. He simply saw a relatively small guy and shoved him down.
This is a 7-foot, 300 pound mega-athlete threatening physicality on everyday people. That can’t happen. That’s why the rule is in place.
By rule, Jokic should be suspended for at least one game. In Amare and Boris’ case, they were suspended for Game 5 of a 2-2 playoff series. Why wouldn’t the same hold true for Jokic?
TNT broadcasters just asked: Will Nikola Jokic be suspended for Game 5?— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) May 8, 2023
Team execs are wondering this too since the rule book says a player should be ejected for entering the stands. Jokic technically just went courtside so there’s room for interpretation. We’ll find out Monday. pic.twitter.com/8jBYdKgSOy
Jokic could and should be suspended.
But I don’t want Jokic suspended, and here’s why.
The Suns lost that Game 5 in 2007, despite it being at home, in part because they had to play the game without two of their best players. Then they lost Game 6 in San Antonio. To this day we will never know what would have happened if Amare and Boris hadn’t been suspended for Game 5.
And I can guarantee you most Suns fans lost sleep over that series for years to come. It was the best Suns team of the Nash era, and the playoff run got snuffed on nothing but a technicality.
That’s why I don’t want Jokic suspended for Game 5 in this series.
This is the best Nuggets team of his era. If the playoff run is cut short because of his suspension, we will never know who should have won the series. We’ll only know who did win it. For decades, people will discount a Suns series win if Jokic is suspended for Game 5, regardless of whose fault it is. And Nuggets fans will have to endure the same pain and anger that Suns fans are STILL smarting from.
Play the rest of the series straight up, and let’s see what happens. I don’t want anyone outside Phoenix saying ‘yeah but’ about this series.