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, if not his sobriety, the irascible owner of the Dallas Mavericks opened his large 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 that Sterling sounded like on a private recording in March. Cuban almost seemed to be daring the league to punish him when he said the following:
“I know I’m prejudiced, and I know I’m bigoted in a lot of different ways. If I see a black kid in a hoodie on my side of the street, I’ll move to the other side of the street. If I see a white guy with a shaved head and tattoos, I’ll move back to the other side of the street. None of us have pure thoughts; we all live in glass houses.”
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’ll probably come out full barrels on his Twitter feed and claim we’re misunderstanding him, or that he said it deliberately as a social experiment, but whatever his motive, 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 the Los Angeles Clippers’ owner with questions about African-Americans. Cuban’s comments were unsolicited and said to 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. 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’s worse, 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 on my side of the street, I’ll move to the other side of the street.’’
Silver values Cuban’s high-tech expertise, social-media involvement and standing as a fan-friendly owner. But there can be no double standard 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 problemas a legal war with Sterling begins. Cuban should apologize at once, own up to his error and hope the NBA has mercy on him.
Because, if the NBA does what’s right, it will begin proceedings against Cuban, as well. It makes us ask how many more racists lurk in the ownership ranks, and if Adam Silver realizes what he got himself into.