Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, announced on Feb. 10 that the team will resume playing the national anthem before home games throughout the 2020-2021 NBA season. In a statement released by the NBA Chief Communications Officer Mike Bass earlier that day, the league re-established that the anthem must be played at all games.
Cuban made the decision before the start of the season not to play the anthem before the Mavericks’ home games. He did so to support NBA personnel who expressed their concerns about not feeling fully represented by the national anthem. “We’ve had a lot of conversations about whether or not we should play the anthem. And so during the first preseason game, we decided to not play it and just see what the response was,” explained Cuban during an interview on ESPN’s The Jump.
Despite NBA rules stipulating that players and team personnel must stand for the playing of the national anthem before games, there were numerous instances throughout the 2019-2020 season in which players chose to violate this rule. In last year’s NBA bubble, players and team personnel largely did not stand for the anthem in protest in the wake of killings of multiple unarmed Black citizens. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was reluctant to enforce the rule and did not levy any fines for their choice to ignore NBA guidelines.
After police shot Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. on Aug. 23, 2020, the NBA was forced to postpone three playoff games due to player boycotts, with the Milwaukee Bucks igniting the series of protests. The Bucks and the Orlando Magic gathered at center court and kneeled together as the national anthem played. Following its conclusion, they exited the arena to speak to the media about social inequality and to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
In Dallas’ first preseason game on Dec. 17 against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the lack of a national anthem didn’t raise much attention and instead was considered more of an oversight, per the Dallas Morning News. Encouraged by the ambivalent response, Cuban maintained the new policy. For the next 13 preseason and regular-season home games, “The Star-Spangled Banner” was absent at American Airlines Center.
It was not until Feb. 8 during a regular-season game between the Mavericks and Timberwolves that The Athletic first pointed out Cuban’s decision. For the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak, spectators were admitted inside the area — including 1,500 vaccinated frontline healthcare workers — which called attention to the absence of the anthem prior to the game. The realization triggered heated discussion throughout the country regarding Cuban’s decision.
Two Mavericks players, Jalen Brunson and Willie Cauley-Stein, expressed their support for Cuban’s initial decision not to play the anthem’s initial decision not to play the anthem. “When you’ve got a guy that shows his full character and he’s not being a businessman and he’s human, that’s big-time for a player to go through,” said Cauley-Stein.
Despite widespread player support of Cuban’s original decision, the Dallas Stars (NHL) and Texas Rangers (MLB), both announced on Twitter that they will continue to play the national anthem prior to games. “It is an important tradition that we will continue to honor at Globe Life Field,” said Rangers Chairman Ray Davis. The Dallas Stars called it a “time-honored tradition.”
Texas Gov. Lt. Dan Patrick also introduced the Star Spangled Banner Protection Act last week, which is designed to ensure the presence of the national anthem at any events that receive public funding in Texas. “In this time when so many things divide us, sports are one thing that bring us together — right, left, black, white and brown,” Patrick told the Dallas News.
As for the Mavericks’ owner, Cuban made it clear that he never intended to completely “cancel” the national anthem. Instead, his hope was to utilize his decision to draw even more public attention to the social injustice and racism inherent in American society.
“Our hope is that going forward people will take the same passion they have for this issue and apply the same amount of energy to listen to those who feel differently from them,” he wrote in a statement. “Then, we can move forward and have courageous conversations that move this country forward and find what unites us.”