In the wake of reporting by The Athletic about a possible rift in the Dallas Mavericks’ front office, a small controversy erupted. The story paints the picture of a power struggle taking place within the team’s brain trust, pitting an analytics-driven gambler and long-time league watchers, scouts, and coaches.
The story sent ripples throughout Mavs fandom and, no doubt, within the organization. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban even took to Twitter to call the report “total bullshit,” once again putting himself front and center as the face of the franchise. Over the years, Cuban’s notoriety and penchant for seeking the spotlight has been beneficial to him and the team. However, being so prominent also has its drawbacks.
Cuban’s ownership of the Mavericks, now entering its twenty-second year, has been wildly influential. I was all-in on Cuban fairly early; he spent a day at my hometown Dairy Queen as a publicity stunt following a comment about how the head of NBA Officials at the time wouldn’t be able to manage one in 2002. Seeing him serve Blizzards behind the counter was delightfully funny.
Beyond his early antics—and there were many—Cuban’s been an important owner, leading the charge both publicly and behind the scenes for numerous changes which improved the NBA we know and love today. He’s also been an important charitable partner within the community.
Last year, as COVID-19 ravaged the country, Cuban stepped up to help those in need. Early on, he pledged to pay the salaries of arena workers once the NBA suspended its season. He, along with the Mavs Foundation, made monthly contributions to Dallas-area nonprofits to help provide food and services to those in need. Cuban—with Luka Doncic and Dwight Powell—donated $500,000 to area hospitals. These are just a few examples.
It’s clear that Cuban is much more than simply an NBA team owner. Unlike almost all of his peers, he remains in the news—nearly constantly. He has a television show. He answers most emails, if your question is brief. He even used to have his own regular media availability before Mavericks games. For long time Mavericks fans, this is just how things are in Dallas. But I need to express how strange it really is, and how over time he’s gone from being an asset to being a liability.
We’ve often wondered why the Mavericks aren’t a free agent destination. After the 2011 title, the argument was Dirk Nowitzki’s age and the market weren’t appealing. There are reasonable theories about Rick Carlisle’s coaching and churlish nature. Now, we have thoughts about Luka Doncic’s ball dominance being detrimental. All of these things have credence, but what we don’t talk enough about is Cuban himself.
In 20 years of ownership—particularly vocal ownership—Cuban was bound to say and do things which create issues, turn people off, or sound curt—or worse. On their own, each of the following statements can be explained away or written off. Yet, when you put them together, it makes for an uncomfortable list.
- May of 2009 - Cuban calls Kenyon Martin a “thug” or a “punk”, depending on the account. It happened during the Gentleman’s sweep of the Mavericks by the Nuggets in the second round of the playoffs. This was bad at the time, it’s much worse in hindsight.
- February 2013 - In trying to make some kind of point about the amnesty tax, Cuban went on Ben and Skin’s show and asked whether the Lakers should consider using the amnesty clause to get out from under Kobe Bryant’s massive contract. Following the Lakers playing Dallas just two days later, Kobe Bryant tweeted “AMNESTY THAT” after the Lakers beat Dallas in American Airlines Center. Bryant is a legend and while the theatrics might’ve been good for some press clippings, it spoke of an owner watching his pocketbook and explaining why fans should as well while also irritating the favorite player of many up and coming stars.
- July 2013 - Cuban says the Mavericks are better without Dwight Howard. Of course, Howard’s potential availability was a key reason why he opted to break up the 2011 title team. It’s okay to admit a thing didn’t work out and there’s no reason to sugarcoat it to fans.
- April 2014 - He expressed concern at the possibility of removing Donald Sterling as a NBA owner, citing a “very, very, very slippery slope” in terms of forcing someone to sell property. These comments look even worse following the 2018 reports of a culture of sexual harassment reported upon by Sports Illustrated which detail Cuban’s knowledge of incidents throughout his entire ownership.
- May 2014 - In attempting to address his own unconscious bias while speaking about the Donald Sterling ousting, he said that, “If I see a black kid in a hoodie at night on the same side of the street, I’m probably going to walk to the other side of the street.” He was attempting to address his own shortcomings, while explaining his decision to support Sterling’s removal from the NBA. Cuban also later apologized to the family of slain teen Trayvon Martin for his comments.
- April 2016 - He tries to explain his opinion that neither Russell Westbrook or Draymond Green are NBA Superstars. Why is he talking about other team’s players? Those players might be free agents one day.
- April 2016 - Kevin Durant calls Mark Cuban an idiot for the comments about Westbrook and Green.
- March 2017 - Mark Cuban says that Russell Westbrook is neither a superstar nor the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. Westbrook won the MVP award three months later.
- February 2018 - Sports Illustrated broke a devastating story about a culture of sexual harassment and even awareness of an employee’s domestic violence charges. Cuban claimed ignorance and vowed changes.
- December 2018 - While speaking about Luka Doncic’s basketball education, he made the comment “They [European players] just learn how to play basketball, while our guys [AAU players] learn how to taunt and put together mixtapes.” This comment rankled many, many players. Again.
- September 2019 - Former Maverick player Lamar Odom claims in a memoir that Cuban kicked him during a game and that he had to be held back by Vince Carter. Odom’s since told the story repeatedly, regretting his own conduct while with the team but repeatedly noting how inappropriate the interaction was.
- October 2020 - When talking to Etan Thomas for a podcast, Cuban states his opinion that Lebron James didn’t have the high basketball IQ in 2011 that he has now, saying “He can now beat you in so many different ways. He’s still athletic enough. His skill-set has improved. His passing. But those all tie back to his basketball IQ and that’s something that wasn’t as developed as it is now.” An egregious comment in audio or written form because it’s simply not true.
- May 2021 - During a 105.3 The Fan interview Cuban says there are “dust ups” between Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis denied such issues exist.
This is such a variety of unforced errors. Why does Cuban constantly feel the need to comment on everything presented to him? What is the value of winning a momentary news cycle at the expense of the future?
If you think I’m exaggerating about the future, consider this quote from Rich Paul, explaining why he won’t speak with influential media figure Bill Simmons, who once harshly criticized both Lebron James and Rich Paul for his “Decision” in 2010:
“A lot of that has to do with race, too. He wouldn’t have said that about Larry Bird. He wouldn’t have said that about J. J. Redick. You get what I am saying? ‘The Decision’ ten years ago is the norm today. It’s what everyone wants to do. Kids won’t even decide where they go to college without it being a big production, and Bill Simmons says some shit like that.”
Now exchange Bill Simmons for Mark Cuban and consider Paul’s quote in light of one or more of the above listed incidents. People with influence and power have long, long memories. That includes agents, current and former NBA players, general managers and owners. These on the record incidents don’t serve any purpose other than being in the news for the sake of it.
The organization, often aided by positive local media coverage, puts forth a constant public relations spin that they are the best and brightest and that given the right set of circumstances, will put together a championship contender. It’s been a decade since the title and the results speak for themselves: NBA legend Dirk Nowitzki finished his career on a sub-.500 team, the franchise has six first round exits, and now have an NBA megastar possibly frustrated with the front office after two early postseason eliminations.
The clock is ticking and there should be changes to the roster, the front office, or the coaching staff. Mark Cuban will remain the owner and he’s important to the team’s identity and culture. He clearly loves the team like we all do. Perhaps one day in the future he’ll learn that he better serves the Dallas Mavericks if he simply owns the team and isn’t a constant part of their story.
Listen to our latest episode of Mavs Moneyball After Dark, featuring Tim Cato of The Athletic, discussing his piece about the current dysfunction in the Mavericks front office. Listen to the podcast via the player below, subscribe to our feed (search: “Mavs Moneyball”) on any of your favorite apps or click here.