OPINION: Mat Ishbia, the King of Flops


The courtside theatrics of Phoenix Suns owner and sports thespian Mat Ishbia are more proof that the NBA is turning into professional soccer on the hardwood.

Soccer is notorious for players who practice the art of the flop: Flailing and falling as if in the throes of injury, only to magically recover once the whistle has been blown in their favor.

On Sunday night, however, the Jon Lovitz routine (“I’m an actor!”) made its way from the players to ownership.

With just over two minutes to play in the Suns’ eventual win, their guard Josh Okogie fell into the courtside stands while attempting to retrieve a loose ball.

The ball found itself in the hands of Suns owner and professional wrestler wanna-be Ishbia, who refused to relinquish it. He clung to it like it was an independent mortgage broker trying to do business with a competitor.

When two-time MVP Nikola Jokić of the Nuggets tried to get the ball back, Ishbia reacted by slapping the ball away from the pro’s hands. Ishbia then put his hands on Jokić as though reliving his days as a benchwarmer for the Michigan State Spartans. Jokić responded by raising his arms up, and one of his elbows bumped Ishbia.

Let’s go to the videotape…

In Zapruder film-like fashion, Ishbia dramatically fell backward and to the left into his chair, with his arms flailing in the air as if Jokić had just Ivan Drago’d him in his own arena. The Phoenix fans around Ishbia flocked around him like a wounded warrior. It’s shocking that the Suns didn’t call an ambulance and carry him out on a stretcher.

Ishbia may not be the next Olivier (or even Cristiano Renaldo), but it worked. Ishbia drew a technical foul on the Nugget’s best player.

This is bad news for the NBA. Does it really want to encourage bad behavior from the owner’s bench, too?

Then again, most NBA owners wouldn’t pull Ishbia’s act. In April, Bloomberg released a report featuring complaints that Ishbia’s company, United Wholesale Mortgage (UWM), promoted a “locker-room culture” of bullying and sexual harassment. As a new NBA owner (he just bought the Suns in February), the mortgage salesman appears to be pitching himself as a second-tier Mark Cuban—someone who, by right of ownership, thinks he can insert himself into the game. Temper tantrums and courtside silliness worked in raising Cuban’s profile.

Perhaps Ishbia will appear at the next home game in a neck brace and crutches in the slim hope of giving his team an advantage.

A quick scan of news reports about Ishbia shows a businessman who’s willing to bully small businesses to get a win. He launched what’s known in the business as the “Broker Wars” when he ordered lenders whom retail loans from UWM to stop doing business with two of his competitors, Rocket and Fairway. He’s even sued those smaller firms to enforce his rules.

And now it appears the same kind of playground taunts Ishbia has thrown at colleges and competitors have translated over to professional athletes.

It worked Sunday night. Referees penalizing one of their biggest stars and, in turn, sending a message to the rest of the league that even all-star players can be toyed with on the game’s biggest stage.

The league is examining if further punishment will be coming Jokić’s way, which would sideline the Nugget’s best player for a heated playoff series. How the league’s discipline arm reacts to this incident will not decide just the future of the series but the future of what kind of league the NBA wants to be.

After the fact, Ishbia now says he doesn’t want any additional punishments. But the damage has been done.

As veteran Boston-based broadcaster Gerry Callahan put it, “Ishbia flopped. Jokić did nothing wrong. He didn’t even deserve a technical. If this were the NHL, the Suns owner would have gotten two minutes for embellishment.”

Something tells me Ishbia wouldn’t handle a 240 lbs NHL star coming over the glass at him.