By now, you should have read Jessica Luther and Jon Wertheim’s SI exposé about how the Dallas Mavericks organization was fraught with misogyny and sexual harassment for decades. While Mark Cuban has built up a lot of equity with sports fans and media as a candid, interesting, and thoughtful voice as owner of the Mavs, the depth and breadth of this investigative story — combined with the laser-focus he had on all aspects of the franchise — makes it so that it defies credulity that he could have had no idea that it was going on.
The piece has too many sexual harassment allegations to count from women who work or worked for the Mavs against Terdema Ussery, who was CEO of the franchise from 1997 until 2015 (he denied the allegations to SI). There were accounts of non-action from now-former head of HR Buddy Pittman. The team’s now-former in-house beat writer Earl K. Sneed was accused of domestic violence by his girlfriend, later arrested for assault at the team’s facilty, and had another domestic dispute with a new girlfriend, who was also employed by the Mavs. These incidents were collectively significant enough that legally Sneed was not permitted to travel to Canada with the team.
Here was Cuban’s response to the story:
Reached by SI on Monday, Cuban expressed embarrassment and horror at the accusations—but insisted he had no knowledge of the corrosive culture in his offices. “This is all new to me,” he said. “The only awareness I have is because I heard you guys were looking into some things…. Based off of what I’ve read here, we just fired our HR person. I don’t have any tolerance for what I’ve read.”
Cuban continued in an emotional response: “It’s wrong. It’s abhorrent. It’s not a situation we condone. I can’t tell you how many times, particularly since all this [#MeToo] stuff has been coming out recently I asked our HR director, ‘Do we have a problem? Do we have any issues I have to be aware of?’ And the answer was no.”
Pressed on how it is that a proudly hyper-attentive owner could be so oblivious, Cuban said, “I deferred to the CEO, who at the time was Terdema, and to HR…. I was involved in basketball operations, but other than getting the financials and reports, I was not involved in the day to day [of the business side] at all. That’s why I just deferred. I let people do their jobs. And if there were anything like this at all I was supposed to be made aware, obviously I was not.”
While there is almost nothing Cuban could say that would in any way be deemed as a sufficient response to the SI story, it’s impossible to believe his ignorance plea. As the SI piece notes, and everybody reading this knows, he has touted himself as being attentive at all levels of the organization:
The very model of a modern hands-on owner, Cuban prides himself on the extent to which he is involved in team affairs. (SI obtained an interoffice email Cuban sent in 2010 complaining about production value of Mavs’ telecasts. “Who exactly calls for the replays?” Cuban wrote. “You tell that person they are about to lose their job if they don’t figure it out.”) In the forthcoming book, The Soul of Basketball, author Ian Thomsen asks Cuban how he is different from other owners. Cuban’s response: “The big difference is, being that I’m so close to everything that’s going around, you can’t bullshit me.”
Another salient point comes from the NBA writer Eric Freeman: “I would assume the guy who pulled ESPN.com’s credentials knew why his team’s beat writer couldn’t travel to Canada.”
“Cuban has built his reputation for 18 years on being the most hands-on owner in sports,” added NBA writer Sean Highkin. “The idea that he somehow had no idea any of this was going on isn’t very plausible.”
It would be rash at this point to call for Cuban to have his team taken away, at least permanently. Soon-to-be former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was directly accused of sexual misconduct as opposed to presiding over it. Donald Sterling’s racist telephone recording followed years and years of racial bad-will, including a housing discrimination suit that is horrifying to read about.
Nevertheless, it is just nearly impossible to believe Cuban could have been ignorant of everything presented in the SI piece, and the NBA should be leading the independent investigation as opposed to “closely monitoring” it like they said they’d do. We all have a tendency to move on to the next scandal while these lengthy internal investigations run their course, but this story should be bigger than that.