OAKLAND — Affluence buys many things, including the illusion of superiority and the belief that rules and laws are meant for others. Indeed, never since wealth and mankind cross paths has an hour passed without somebody proving that money can’t buy manners.
Mark Stevens had his moment Wednesday night, and now he’s considerably more famous for his boorishness than he ever was for his billions.
Stevens was known in privileged circles as a billionaire who was among the relatively anonymous group of folks owning a portion of the Warriors. CEO Joe Lacob and partner Peter Guber are the controlling partners and primary spokesmen, with Stevens and others remaining in the background. Courtside seats are among the perks.
That’s where Stevens was Wednesday night, watching Game 3 of the NBA Finals inside Oracle Arena, when his personality was exposed, and his obnoxiousness came billowing out.
After Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry chased a loose ball that was not directly toward, but merely in the vicinity of, Stevens’ seat, the part owner reacted by reaching over to give Lowry an utterly gratuitous shove before nearly 20,000 people and a global audience of millions. Stevens also, according to Lowry on Thursday, uttered several times a directive — “Go f--k yourself” — that is anatomically impossible.
The Warriors have done so much work to rebuild their image, recasting themselves as a top-tier franchise, with the highest of standards, and here comes one of their co-owners slobbering on the furniture and cussing out competitors.
Stevens’ behavior was despicable enough for the Warriors to issue a statement of apology Thursday morning, followed several hours later by the NBA’s decision to fine Stevens $500,000 and also ban him from NBA games for one year.
Predictably, Stevens on Thursday afternoon issued his own statement:
“I take full responsibility for my actions last night at the NBA Finals and am embarrassed by what transpired. What I did was wrong and there is no excuse for it. Mr. Lowry deserves better, and I have reached out today in an attempt to directly apologize to him and other members of the Raptors and Warriors organizations. I’m grateful to those who accepted my calls. I hope that Mr. Lowry and others impacted by this lapse in judgement understand that the behavior I demonstrated last night does not reflect the person I am or have been throughout my life. I made a mistake and I’m truly sorry. I need to be better and look forward to making it right.”
Lapse in judgment? How about revelation of character?
“Well, the climate we're in now, no one is afraid to really express themselves, whether it be through their beliefs, whatever that is,” said Warriors veteran forward Andre Iguodala, referring to the sharp rise in social unrest and abhorrent public behavior since Donald Trump became president 30 months ago. “There are incentives to be brave with who you truly are.”
Though I don’t know Mark Stevens from Steven Marks, I do know that his actions are those of someone who believes, on some level, he has the right to commit them. This was not a rich man’s clumsy attempt at humor. This was blatant disregard for a fellow man trying to do his job.
It’s the latest of several publicized incidents involving courtside-seated fans and NBA players that go well beyond heckling and into brazen disrespect. And there is no sign of it stopping.
Shortly before Stevens’ apology was released by the Warriors, NBA commissioner Adam Silver was attending a previously scheduled community event in Brookfield Village, barely a mile from the Oakland arena. After the speeches and grins and ribbon-cutting, he had to wrestle with this sobering issue and explain the league’s decision.
"It’s not a science in making these decisions,” Silver said. “Ultimately, we felt that given how contrite Mr. Stevens was, the fact that he was extraordinarily apologetic, the fact that had no blemishes in his prior involvement with the NBA or the Warriors, that a one-year ban seemed appropriate, along with the fine.”
Silver is the most progressive of the commissioners over the four major sports in North America. He’s sensitive to the racial component of these incidents, all of which have involved white fans and black players. Player input was part of his decision-making process, he said.
“We spoke to several different players today from around the league,” he said. “And I listened to the commentary as well. It’s my job to take into account all the various members of the NBA family. And as I said, I’d like to think that whether there’s an issue that involves a team investor, as is the case here, or a player that everyone is afforded due process. We don’t necessarily respond to immediate sentiment of the most dramatic thing we could do in a situation, but that we act in a way we would expect people to act toward us if we had made a mistake.
“Ultimately here, there’s no question that Mr. Stevens made a terrible mistake. And from my standpoint, he’s paying an enormous price for it, not just in terms of the discipline, the ban and the fine, but reputationally in this community as well. My sense is he really understands that.”
Maybe Silver is right. Because there is no established pattern of Stevens being a bigot or even openly repugnant, perhaps a lifetime ban, as was slapped upon former Clippers owner Donald Sterling in 2014, is too much.
But this was an opportunity to take a zero-tolerance stand that could have been posted throughout the plushest hallways of the NBA, demanding that all executives meet a standard that does not diminish the league.
[RELATED: Lowry wants Stevens out of NBA]
Stevens’ biggest crime is that he openly disrespected a professional; he’s fortunate Lowry didn’t respond with physicality. Stevens’ actions also, as partners and likely friends with Lacob and Guber, resulted in an undesirable image of Warriors ownership.
Stevens is not finished as a wealthy business executive, but he has to live with a new reputation that is a lot more genuine.