You can’t jump a few feet in the Bay Area without falling on or near a venture capitalist. That’s what happened during Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday, when Kyle Lowry chased a loose ball into the crowd during the fourth quarter and landed next to Mark Stevens, a prominent Silicon Valley investor who used to be a partner at Sand Hill Road staple Sequoia Capital. When Lowry attempted to return to the court, Stevens shoved him on the shoulder and, according to the point guard, told him to “go fuck yourself.”
“Fans like that shouldn’t be allowed to be in there.” Lowry said after the game, adding that he hoped the league will “ban him from all NBA games forever.” Stevens may look like your average polo-and-lanyard-wearing Warriors fan, but his station in life adds a layer of complexity to the incident. As Axios reported on Thursday, Stevens is one of Golden State’s minority owners.
Stevens’ seat was left vacant for the remainder of the game, and on Thursday, the Warriors released a statement and apology. The NBA later announced he had been banned for a year and fined $500,000:
Mr. Stevens’ behavior last night did not reflect the high standards that we hope to exemplify as an organization. We’re extremely disappointed in his actions and, along with Mr. Stevens, offer our sincere apology to Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors organization for this unfortunate misconduct. There is no place for such interaction between fans—or anyone—and players at an NBA game.
Were he a normal fan, Stevens could have argued that he got caught up in the moment. Lowry came crashing down pretty hard, and the ensuing adrenaline rush must have been pretty killer—at least more potent than what one experiences during a long day of Venture Capitaling. But that argument wouldn’t have worked, as fans who sit courtside know to expect the occasional flying point guard. After all, that’s what they paid for.
Stevens, meanwhile, paid for a slice of the team itself. In 2010, billionaire venture capitalist Joe Lacob led a 19-person investment group that bought the Warriors for $450 million. Stevens purchased a stake in 2013 and saw his investment turn into a championship-winning dynasty shortly thereafter. As a result, Lacob and his cohort have been credited frequently for turning the franchise around with their “Silicon Valley–style” techniques. The culmination of this transformation is next season’s move to the Chase Center, the team’s new home across the bay in San Francisco. That stadium will offer premium courtside suites that, according to the Washington Post, will be “equipped with a butler, a well-appointed dining room area for social events and a private wine cellar.” Future VCs will wonder why Stevens bothered to shove Kyle Lowry himself—couldn’t he have asked his butler to do it for him?
“Lacob was not the first venture capitalist to buy a franchise,” the New York Times explained in 2016, “but he is the first to operate one according to what might be called Silicon Valley precepts: nimble management, open communication, integrating the wisdom of outside advisers and continuous re-evaluation of what companies do and how they do it.” Those precepts don’t seem to include “shoving opposing point guards,” though in light of Wednesday’s game, it may be worth re-examining the intended meaning of “nimble management.”
Stevens is quoted in that Times feature, and he knocks owners who try to muddle too much, the types who want to control everything “down to the color of the underwear.” He was correct back then. Management really should be hands-off.