When it comes to sports, emotions can — and frequently do — run high. Sometimes, this leads to fights between players, as was the case when a Chicago White Sox infielder infamously charged the mound after veteran Texas Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan hit him with a pitch. But when fans get in the mix, it’s a whole other ballgame, so to speak.
This issue most recently rose to the surface of sports discourse when a fan shoved Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry after he went flying into the crowd during Game 3 of the 2019 NBA Finals. It later came to light that the fan in question, Mark Stevens, is a part owner of the Golden State Warriors.
The incident occurred after Lowry slammed into a group of fans seated courtside at Oracle Arena while trying to save a loose ball in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s game. Stevens, who wasn’t involved in the collision, then reached over to shove Lowry out of the way. Lowry complained to a referee, and Stevens was ejected from the game.
During a SportsCenter appearance following the game, Lowry said that he felt Stevens should no longer be allowed to attend NBA games. “Honestly, I hope he’s never allowed to come to an NBA game because he shouldn’t have done that,” Lowry told ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt. “There’s no place for that. Luckily, they threw him out. I talked to the league security already and explained myself. The fans have a place. We love our fans. But fans like that, they shouldn’t be allowed to be in there because it’s not right.”
Lowry’s fellow NBA star LeBron James also spoke out against Stevens’ actions. James took to Instagram on Thursday to call for Stevens to be further disciplined.
The NBA also issued a statement on Thursday calling Stevens’ actions “beyond unacceptable” and announcing that he will not be allowed to attend games as their review of the matter continues.
The results of this particular altercation seem to be skewing in Lowry’s — a.k.a. the player’s — favor. But ahead of Game 4 of the finals, let’s take a look back at how some of the memorable fan-player confrontations in major league sports history have played out.
The Malice at the Palace
Back when Metta World Peace went by his real name, Ron Artest, and played for the Indiana Pacers, he was involved in a fan-player brawl so infamous that it has been given its own name: The Malice at the Palace.
The events leading up to Artest fighting a fan during a 2004 game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons included Pistons center Ben Wallace shoving Artest after Artest fouled him, Artest laying down on the scorer’s table to try to cool off, and a fan — a man named John Green — throwing a drink at Artest while he was lying there.
What followed was a massive brawl that began with Artest attacking a man who he thought was Green, but was actually just a random spectator.
“There were roughly half a dozen elements that caused that brawl to happen,” Mark Montieth, who covered the Pacers for the Indianapolis Star, told Grantland in 2012. “If Artest doesn’t make that hard foul on Ben Wallace, it doesn’t happen. If Ben Wallace doesn’t react the way he did, it doesn’t happen. If the referees control the situation, it doesn’t happen. If Artest doesn’t go lay down on that scorer’s table, it doesn’t happen. If the fan doesn’t throw the beverage, it doesn’t happen. There was a continuation there, a succession of things. You take away any one of them and the whole thing doesn’t happen.”
Five Pacers and four Pistons were suspended following the melee. Artest was suspended for the remainder of the 2003-04 season — the longest fight-related suspension ever levied in the NBA — while his teammates Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal were suspended for 30 and 25 games, respectively. Artest also lost approximately $5 million in salary.
Green was convicted of misdemeanor assault and sentenced to 30 days in jail and two years’ probation. He was also banished for life from Detroit home games.
Strangely enough, Artest and Green are now friends.
Albert “Joey” Belle became known for a number of outbursts throughout his career. But the incident that sticks out in most MLB fans’ minds is when he chucked a loose foul ball at a heckling fan during a May 1991 game between the Cleveland Indians and California Angels. The fan in question, Jeff Pillar, had apparently been taunting Belle, who had spent 10 weeks in an alcohol-rehabilitation program the previous summer, about “throwing a keg party” and inviting him.
The Indians issued an apology to Pillar — who was left with a bruised chest bone — on Belle’s behalf and the American League suspended him for six games.
In the wake of a 13-3 loss to a less-than-stellar Seattle Seahawks squad in 2008, New York Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis was caught on camera heaving a chunk of snow at Seahawks season ticket holder Robert Larsen as the Jets were pelted with snowballs while running off the field at Qwest Stadium. Despite the fact that Ellis claimed his reaction was “all in fun,” the NFL slapped him with a $10,000 fine for the incident.
Larsen also sued Ellis in 2010, a full two years later, for both physical and emotional damages.
When an altercation between the Texas Rangers bullpen and Oakland Athletics fans made then-Texas reliever Frank Francisco see red during a 2004 game at the Oakland Coliseum, Francisco hurled a metal folding chair into the stands that hit a heckling fan’s wife in the face and broke her nose. Francisco was ejected from the game, suspended for the rest of the season, and fined $10,000 by the league. He was also arrested on a charge of aggravated battery.
The fan’s wife, Jennifer Bueno, later filed a lawsuit against the team, the players and the security firm employed by the A’s. It was settled out of court when the Rangers agreed to issue a public apology as well as a sum of money that was not disclosed.
“It’s going to be something that is part of my life forever,” Bueno said during a 2005 news conference announcing the lawsuit. “I’m fearful of any confrontations happening around me.”
There are some trash talk lines that should never be crossed — that is, if you don’t want a 6-foot-4 inch, 180-pound NBA player coming after you.
Violence is obviously never the answer, but when then-Houston Rockets shooting guard Vernon “Mad Max” Maxwell allegedly heard a Portland Trail Blazers fan making fun of his wife’s recent miscarriage during a 1995 game, he went bounding up into the stands during a timeout and hit the heckler, a man named Steve George, in the jaw. For his part, George, insisted he was simply taunting Maxwell for only having scored five points.
“I’m a fan yelling about the game,” George told the Los Angeles Times. “I was definitely riding Vernon, you know, ‘Five points, four fouls, you’re not having a good night.’ I don’t deserve to get hit in the face for that.”
Maxwell was ejected, suspended for 10 games and hit with a $20,000 fine by the NBA.