If sports leagues could run for political office, the NBA would run as a progressive Democrat.
After all, if any league is synonymous with social justice in all of American sports, it’s a league where four-fifths of the players are African-American, the league has embraced a partnership with “Lean In Together,” and a lack of profitability doesn’t stop it from full support of its women’s league.
Furthermore, NBA commissioner Adam Silver forced the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers and banned former Clips owner Donald Sterling for life over racist words Sterling said that were caught on audio by his mistress in 2014.
So it seems rather curious that Silver did not give a suspension or any other serious discipline to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in the wake of a massive organizational failure that led to a number of women in that team’s business office claiming they were repeatedly sexually harassed and assaulted.
Silver’s reasoning? Because it wasn’t Cuban himself assaulting the women, and because it was not policies he himself promulgated that led to the culture, suspending Cuban personally would not befit his role in the alleged crimes.
“That was an important factor for me in making that decision,” Silver said Friday, after he met with the league’s board of governors in New York. “Should he have known in many cases? Absolutely. But again, from the 215 witness interviews, the over a million pages [of documents in the report], the clear picture that was presented was Mark was absentee from the business side of the organization. So that was a critically important factor.”
This squares with what Cuban himself said to Rachel Nichols when she interviewed him on ESPN’s “The Jump” earlier in the week.
Cuban said, and the evidence supports, that he was a very hands-on owner on the basketball side of the operation, meeting with players, basketball operations management, and coach Rick Carlisle about the product on the court.
Indeed, Cuban has drawn praise for taking a franchise that was moribund when he it in 2000 for $285 million from then-owner Ross Perot Jr. and turning it into a two-time NBA Finals team and the 2011 champions.
Cuban also seemed genuinely contrite on his ESPN appearance, apologizing profusely to the women involved and was legitimately distraught in that interview.
“I mean, I didn’t know, and I don’t have an explanation,” Cuban told Nichols. “You know I can give you lots of reasons, but they don’t matter. It was my responsibility, and I have to be accountable for it.”
Cuban continued, reinforcing his reputation as a basketball guy first and a business-office guy a distant second.
“In hindsight, it was staring me right in the face, and I missed it,” Cuban said. “I wasn’t as focused on the business as I should’ve been. You know, when I talk about being actively involved, I could tell you every salary of everybody, every NBA player over the last 15 years. I would talk to Rick (Carlisle) and our coaches over the years, and be there at practices, and be there on the basketball side, day in day out, live it. If I was in our business office five times in 15 years, that was a lot, you know. It’s embarrassing to say. There were people who I just hadn’t met and hadn’t talked to.”
And that, apparently, was enough to satisfy Silver and let Cuban off the hook for further punishment.
Cuban also donated $10 million to a fund that will be used for charities fighting domestic violence along with organizations that “promote women’s leadership and development in sports.”
What’s more, that $10 million is four times the maximum fine the NBA is allowed by its agreement with the owners to levy against a team or owner.
Silver gave Cuban the benefit of what any competent business school management class teaches is the correct way to apologize.
“That to me is an example that I don’t see in any other industry, where someone is willing to put themselves out that way and be that forthcoming and act and be that responsive,” Silver said. “So given the totality of those circumstances, I ultimately decided that a suspension was not appropriate.”
And some may continue to bay for blood, insisting that in this era of Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K. having their careers undone, Cuban should suffer the same fate.
But a more charitable rendering of the situation is that Cuban honestly didn’t know what his sexual predator of an executive was up to, and when he found out, he acted and did everything he could to make it right.
At the board of governors meeting, Silver made it clear that the responsibility is now on the other 29 owners to do a full audit of their own teams’ cultures, learning the lesson that the Mavericks learned. The unspoken implication was that if these sorts of organizational failures continue, the next time the commissioner won’t be so forgiving.
“The No. 1 recommendation, not surprisingly, in the investigator’s report is that you need women in the workplace in order to have a diverse point of view, in order to ensure that ultimately that women are heard in the workplace,” Silver said.
“These are traumatic moments for people and there needs to be an opportunity to be heard and to have a full discussion about how people are feeling emotionally in these moments,” he added.
If the reaction of the other owners at the Board of Governors meeting is anything to go by, the NBA looks like it’s committed to reinforcing its reputation for getting out in front of social justice causes.
“All the teams in the room were very receptive to those kinds of programs and I think it was a sobering moment,” Silver said. “People are looking through those lists saying, ‘Can something like this happen in my workplace?’ Whether it’s the NBA or any other businesses they operate, what are the best practices preventing those things going forward?
“I can only say, we will redouble our efforts at the league and working with our teams to try to ensure that the kind of events that happened at the Mavericks never happen again.”
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