Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A ball went out of bounds. The shove that followed has divided NBA fans

Nikola Jokic during the altercation with Mat Ishbia on Sunday night.
AAron Ontiveroz
The Denver Post via Getty
Nikola Jokic during the altercation with Mat Ishbia on Sunday night.

The NBA has long grappled with how to manage player interactions with fans. But what happens when the fan owns one of the teams? After Sunday night, Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic wants to know.

Who is he? The Serbian native is the starting center for the Nuggets, and is a two-time NBA MVP.

  • Jokic was on fire in Sunday's game against the Phoenix Suns, scoring a career-high 53 points in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals.
  • The Suns ultimately won 129-124, leaving the series tied 2-2.
  • What's the big deal? Jokic has dominated headlines since that game, but not for his scoring.

  • In the second quarter of Sunday's game, the ball went out into the courtside seats and landed in the hands of Suns owner Mat Ishbia. Jokic rushed to retrieve the ball, and in a momentary struggle it was sent further into the crowd.
  • Jokic could then be seen giving Ishbia a slight shove with his elbow, who sent his arms up in a shocked fashion and fell back into his seat (you can judge for yourself if you think he "flopped".)
  • Jokic was given a technical foul for the encounter, and has fueled hundreds of takes within the Sports Media Op-ed Vortex ™.
  • What are people saying? Everything and anything, it seems. The basketball world is staunchly divided.

    Here's what Jokic had to say about it after the game:

    The fan put their hands on me first. I thought the league was supposed to protect us, but maybe I'm wrong.

    Not me as a person, I mean as a player. I know he's an owner but he's a fan, isn't he? Whoever he is, he cannot influence the game by holding the ball.

    I think he's supposed to get kicked out if he's influencing the game.

    Ishbia tweeted on Monday about a possible suspension or fine for Jokic:

    Refereeing crew chief Tony Brothers after the game:

    Jokic came to get the ball, grabbed it away from the fan, then after that he deliberately gave him a shove and pushed him down, so he was issued an unsportsmanlike technical foul. 

    Nuggets head coach Michael Malone on the issue:

    [Jokic] is going to get the ball, and some fan was holding the ball like he wants to be part of the game ... They deemed Nikola doing something that was excessive, I guess, and they gave him a tech, but I still don't really understand it. 

    I don't give a s*** [that it was Ishbia]. I really don't care. 

    Want more on basketball? Listen to Consider This on how women's basketball is having a moment.

    So, what now?

  • The question of a suspension or fine for Jokic has been hotly contested. Many thought it would be an overreaction, while others mounted a passionate case for a ban.
  • The Denver Nuggets will face the Phoenix Suns next on Tuesday. 
  • Learn more:

  • String of horse deaths before the Kentucky Derby reignites scrutiny about the sport
  • 2 states launch an investigation of the NFL over gender discrimination and harassment
  • 76ers player James Harden invited a Michigan State shooting victim to a playoff game
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

    Manuela López Restrepo
    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.
    Become a sustaining member for as low as $5/month
    Make an annual or one-time donation to support MTPR
    Pay an existing pledge or update your payment information