Once Kenneth Roe looked up from his phone late in the third quarter, he realized something was going on. Dallas Mavericks star Luka Dončić was looking at him and motioning toward security. Roe quickly had one thought.
“Is he really going to kick me out right now?”
The Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night won their seventh in a row, routing the Mavericks at American Airlines Center in Dallas. Devin Booker scored 46 points, but Dončić’s reaction to getting heckled has since dominated NBA conversation.
It was initially reported that arena security did not eject Roe, it simply asked him to relocate to the concourse level, away from the court. On Friday, however, Roe told The Athletic he did as instructed — but once he reached the concourse, “a couple gentlemen” approached and told him he had to leave.
Then once he left the facility, Roe said he was told he had to leave the entire area.
“I’m just on a public sidewalk, hanging out, calling my friends that were still in there, basically telling them what happened to me: ‘Hey, I got kicked out. I can’t come back in. When do you guys want to go?’” Roe said. “A guy poked his head out and he says, ‘Sir, you’re going to have to exit the premises.’ I’m like: ‘What? Are you even allowed to do this? Do you have the authority to do this?’”
A Mavericks source disputes that the fan was ejected, saying he was asked to move to the concourse so he could be given a warning, and that any impression Roe had to leave was a miscommunication. The source said that once fans leave the arena, it is policy that they do not remain on the premises.
Mavericks general manager Nico Harrison told The Athletic that the fan should have been ejected for consistent violations of the arena’s fan code of conduct, which he said began prior to the incident with Dončić. He also said the Mavericks plan to reinforce the existing fan code of conduct to make sure the team offers a family-friendly environment and avoids future incidents like this one. He declined to comment on the specifics of Roe’s account.
Roe said he watched the rest of the game from a nearby restaurant. Not much later, his phone started blowing up. First, it was friends expressing the craziness of Roe getting ejected.
“Ken got kicked out!”
Then the reaction.
“Oh, my gosh! ESPN’s posting this!”
Luka Doncic asked security to eject this Suns fan, who was sitting two rows behind midcourt press row. The comment the fan made that drew Doncic’s wrath: “Luka, you’re tired! Get your ass on the treadmill!” pic.twitter.com/chNYwiJBC0
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) January 25, 2024
Fan behavior in recent years has gotten more attention across the NBA. Players understand that heckling is part of the business, but some are no longer willing to tolerate language they believe is too personal or obscene. In 2021, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James had two fans ejected from their courtside seats in Indianapolis after he said they went “outside the line with obscene gestures and words.” Last year, Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving had a fan ejected from a road game in Charlotte.
In Dallas and other NBA cities, fans are expected to abide by a “Code of Conduct” that is listed on the arena’s website. Among the expectations and standards listed: “Fans may not interfere with the event and/or athletes in any manner.”
To what degree Roe interfered with Dončić is open to interpretation.
Roe, 22, is a senior at SMU, where he majors in sports management and minors in business. His home, however, is Phoenix. And his favorite team, at least for the past decade, has been the Suns. In early January, a friend informed Roe she had four tickets for the Phoenix game. Roe told her he was in and invited along two buddies.
Their seats were in the second row, directly behind media seating. Roe wore his Booker City Edition “El Valle” jersey that he had gotten for Christmas. In the first quarter, he took a video, showing both teams walking onto the court after a timeout. Dončić already had five points and four assists as Dallas led 19-15.
For most of the night, Roe said he cheered on the Suns, who had entered the game playing their best basketball, even as they trailed early by double digits. Roe admits he has a loud voice that carries, so players likely could hear him when he yelled.
“I wasn’t going after Mavs players or anything when we were down 15 in the first half,” Roe said. “If I was talking trash, it was more broad, more general. I wasn’t really targeting a player. It was more so, if the Mavs made a turnover or made a mistake, just regular jeering.”
Dallas led 58-57 at halftime, but in the third quarter, the game turned. Booker caught fire and the Suns built a 20-point lead. That was about the time Roe made the comment that got Dončić’s attention (The Arizona Republic’s Duane Rankin tweeted it in real time).
“Luka, you’re tired. Get your ass on the treadmill!”
“The arena was pretty quiet,” Roe said. “The Mavs had the ball. And he was jogging up the court a little bit, like he was dragging his feet. He looked like he needed to do some cardio, so I said what I said. He definitely heard it. The press folks right in front of me heard it, as well, kind of turning around like, ‘Who is this guy talking to Luka?’”
Roe said an usher approached and told him that if he wanted to stay in his seats, he needed to keep it down. His response, he said: “By all means. My fault.” But not much later, a second usher told him he had to watch from the arena concourse. From there, he said he was told to throw away his beer and leave.
“And I’m not going to argue with these people, so I left,” Roe said.
Then it went public.
“I was a little worried about the whole ordeal because, you know, media is media, they kind of control the narrative, and I didn’t want people thinking I was some sort of hooligan,” he said. “That’s why I was kind of glad when (his comment got out) because I didn’t want people assuming the worst, saying I had attacked Luka’s family or said something personal.”
On Thursday night, Dončić was asked about the incident during an appearance on TNT’s “Inside the NBA.” The Dallas star said he had been frustrated with the score and with a twisted ankle suffered in the first half. Emotion got the best of him. “I probably shouldn’t have done that. When I’m wrong, I admit it,” Dončić said.
“It was just a lot of emotions. … When I’m wrong, I admit it. I probably shouldn’t have done that.”
Luka explains his altercation with a fan during the Mavs-Suns game last night pic.twitter.com/w3RFx9PMA8
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 26, 2024
Roe said the Suns have contacted him and expressed interest in bringing him to the desert for a home game. To him, this is just a funny story. Something memorable in his final year of college.
“Luka’s a great player,” Roe said. “It will be interesting to see how he responds to that. Maybe he comes out next year 20 pounds lighter and he’ll have me to thank for that.”
— The Athletic’s Tim Cato contributed to this story.
Luka Dončić’s call for fan to be ejected amid loss to Suns shows his frustrations boiling over
(Photo of Luka Dončić from Wednesday’s game: Sam Hodde / Getty Images)