If you’re going to ban Donald Sterling from the NBA, don’t you now have to eject Mark Cuban, too? In explosive comments that have me asking about his own emotional stability, the irascible owner of the Dallas Mavericks opened his big mouth much too far this time and put his fellow league owners and commissioner Adam Silver in a shockingly difficult position.
Speaking at a conference in Nashville, Cuban portrayed himself publicly as every bit the racist Sterling was on a private recording in March. He tried to claim he was offering a nuanced view on how far society has progressed regarding the ills of bigotry, but nuance is impossible to convey when Cuban admits to this racist tug: “I mean, we’re all prejudiced in one way or another. If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it’s late at night, I’m walking to the other side of the street. And if on that side of the street, there’s a guy that has tattoos all over his face — white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere — I’m walking back to the other side of the street. And the list goes on of stereotypes that we all live up to and are fearful of.’’
Cuban says his comments are a teaching moment, that we must understand the context in which he was speaking. Sorry, I can’t get past the “black kid in a hoodie’’ statement. Here is the fuller version of Cuban’s remarks:
“In this day and age, this country has really come a long way putting any type of bigotry behind us, regardless of who it’s toward. We’ve come a long way, and with that progress comes a price. We’re a lot more vigilant and we’re a lot less tolerant of different views, and it’s not necessarily easy for everybody to adapt or evolve.
“I mean, we’re all prejudiced in one way or another. If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it’s late at night, I’m walking to the other side of the street. And if on that side of the street, there’s a guy that has tattoos all over his face — white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere — I’m walking back to the other side of the street. And the list goes on of stereotypes that we all live up to and are fearful of. So in my businesses, I try not to be hypocritical. I know that I’m not perfect. I know that I live in a glass house, and it’s not appropriate for me to throw stones.”
As someone who knows Cuban and lobbied aggressively for him in the media to become the Chicago Cubs owner years ago, I am stunned. He says we’re misunderstanding him, but social experiement or otherwise, he blew it with the “hoodie’’ comment. It reeks of racism and blatant insensitivity. At least Sterling rightfully can claim that the infamous V. Stiviano set him up when she taped him — without his consent, which is against the law in California — in a conversation in which she seemed to bait him with questions about African-Americans. Cuban’s comments were in front of an audience at the GrowCo convention, hosted by Inc. magazine. When asked how bigotry can be eliminated in the NBA, Cuban referenced his recent comment about the owners heading down “a slippery slope’’ if a fellow owner is banned for free-speech issues.
“You don’t. There’s no law against stupid,’’ Cuban said. “I’m the one who says don’t force the stupid people to be quiet. I want to know who the morons are.’’
All Cuban has done is add himself to the moron list. Nuance? This is a little boy trying to get away with something Sterling could not. You don’t talk about advances in fighting bigotry, then admit to your own racism. Cuban is a hater, too, regardless of context, when he makes the “black kid in a hoodie’’ comment. And don’t let the media people who will try to defend him — such as those at ESPN, owned by Disney Co., which employs Cuban as a star of a show called “Shark Tank’’ — soften the blow.
And to think Silver, who is fond of Cuban’s guidance and leans on him, was all but pleading with the national media to focus on a compelling NBA postseason and talent-packed draft instead of the Sterling drama. The night before Cuban’s comments, Silver was asked if Sterling is ruining what’s great about pro basketball.
“Your question makes me think of Kevin Durant’s MVP speech,” Silver said. “I think Kevin Durant as our most valuable player embodies what this league is all about, and frankly Mr. Sterling doesn’t.
“it’s not just the performances on the court that it’s a distraction from. And I think what made this moment bigger than basketball, certainly for everybody involved in the league, and that moment being that recording, was that it did come from within, that under David Stern and commissioners that came before him, barriers were broken with this league, and I think for those who say it’s a slippery slope, and my God, what happens to the next player or the next owner who does something wrong, I’d only say there’s something particular about race issues when it comes to sports, and maybe the NBA in particular.
“I mean, it’s no secret we have a league that the majority of the players are African-American; the vast majority of the owners are not. But it’s as egalitarian an institution as there is anywhere, at least that I know of. And I look at the track record in terms of hiring of coaches, general managers, front-office personnel, even increasingly in the ownership ranks, I think it’s you know, it’s beyond anger. It’s sort of what I said earlier. There’s a certain sadness, and you feel it, it’s almost a malaise around the league. That’s what I sensed when I first met with the Clippers. It was something deeper than anger. And again, it’s that so many of our players in listening to Kevin Durant who had experienced discrimination in their lives, we’re not a post-racial society, but at least within the boundaries of my authority, I feel an obligation to protect the people who are within this league, and so that’s my reaction.”
So how does he deal with Cuban? How can you give him a warning and continue to prosecute Sterling without being called a stinking hypocrite? What is worse sin, telling a 31-year-old gold-digger to avoid Magic Johnson and other African-Americans at games — or saying, “If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it’s late at night, I’m walking to the other side of the street.’’ Again, when someone is that candid about his views and fears, how can we believe Cuban when he tries to come off as a fully tolerant, equal-opportunity employer who will help people overcome their bigotry? “I’ll try to give them a chance to improve themselves, because I think that helping people improve their lives, helping people engage with people they may fear or may not understand, and helping people realize that while we all may have our prejudices and bigotries we have to learn that it’s an issue that we have to control, that it’s part of my responsibility as an entrepreneur to try to solve it, not just to kick the problem down the road,” Cuban said. “Because it does my company no good, it does my customers no good, it does society no good if my response to somebody and their racism and bigotry is to say, ‘It’s not right for you to be here. Go take your attitude somewhere else.’’’
I hear that. But I’m hearing “black kid in a hoodie’’ much louder, probably because it strikes too closely to the Trayvon Martin shooting in 2012.
Silver values Cuban’s high-tech expertise, social-media involvement and standing as a fan-friendly owner. But there can be no double standards here. A racist owner is a racist owner, and just as Silver is punishing Sterling for the right reasons, he should punish Cuban for exacerbating the problem. Cuban should apologize at once, own up to his error and hope the NBA has mercy on him.
My guess is, because Cuban is a valued member of the owners’ club and Sterling was not, he’ll slide. Shame on Silver, the owners and all of Cuban’s Mickey Mouse teammates at Disney/ESPN for not calling out the hypocrisy.