Photo: Matt York/AP
Denver star Nikola Jokic was penalized for a technical foul after colliding with Phoenix owner Mat Ishbia in the Suns’ 129-124 playoff win over the Nuggets on Sunday night.
In the second quarter, Sun guard Josh Okogie stumbled onto the seats while chasing the ball. Ishbia grabbed the ball and Jokic tried to retrieve it. Shortly after the ball flew back into the seats, Jokic and Ishbia scored. Predictably, the 6ft 11in, 285lb Jokic won the fight and Ishbia was thrown backwards into his seat. It was unclear if Jokic saw Ishbia clearly or was even aware of who he was.
Officials conferred for a few minutes before scoring Jokic as a technical. Ishbia told the Associated Press at halftime that he was “fine” and more worried about the outcome of the game.
Ishbia, 43, is the billionaire CEO of mortgage lender United Wholesale Mortgage. He played basketball at Michigan State as a walk-on, where he won a national title. In February, he bought the Suns and Phoenix Mercury from the WNBA for $4 billion from Robert Sarver, whose regime was mired in controversy. The purchase was the largest for an NBA team in history, dwarfing the $3.3 billion Joe Tsai paid for the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center in 2019.
“Basketball is at the core of my life, from my high school days as a player to the honor of playing for Coach Izzo and winning a national title at Michigan State University,” Ishbia said of completing his purchase.
Jokic is a two-time NBA MVP and, at 28, is already considered one of the greatest European players of all time. The incident did little to cool down Jokic’s performance – he scored 53 points and had 11 assists.
Kevin Durant and Devin Booker each scored 36 points for Phoenix. The Suns’ win tied the series 2-2. Game 5 takes place Tuesday night in Denver.
In Sunday’s other game, James Harden scored a three-pointer in overtime as the Philadelphia 76ers tied their playoff series 2-2 to the Boston Celtics.
“I just want to win,” Harden said. “Today was about life for us.”
Harden said he was inspired by John Hao, who was paralyzed in a Michigan State University shooting earlier this year. The two struck up a friendship, and Harden invited Hao to the game as his guest.
“He’s strong, he bounces back, he’s recovering very well,” Harden said after the game. “I feel like it’s my job to give him that light, that smile he deserves. Hopefully today was one of those days when he can smile.”