By David Mullen
It’s not fun and games in the offices of the Dallas Mavericks anymore.
February has been quite a month. First, founding owner Donald Carter dies at 84. Then, during All Star Game weekend, current owner Mark Cuban infers on a podcast with Julius Erving that it might be best for the Mavericks to tank the rest of the season for a better chance at a top draft pick than playing to win for the remainder of the season. Then comes the bombshell. And the issues had nothing to do with the players or coaching staff.
The Mavericks offices were full of sexual impropriety against female employees, according to one former organization employee who spent five years with the Mavs and has since left. “It was a real life ‘Animal House,’” she said. “And I only say ‘was’ because I’m not there anymore. I’m sure it’s still going on.”
This was not some unsubstantiated Internet post or a ratings-grabbing segment on “TMZ” or “Extra.” This is according to an exposé in the respected Sports Illustrated magazine. It took two reporters to research and write the story.
Cuban’s frank comments about losing to secure a first round, top draft pick slot earned him a $600,000 fine from the NBA. That is how the week started. Chalk it up to “Just Mark being Mark.” Fans scoff when a billionaire who is proud to show off his wealth with his high profile public appearances and shopping for companies on “Shark Tank” is fined an amount only people could dream of having. “He probably has that in his money clip” followers will joke. But what happened the next day was no joke.
Sports Illustrated called the Mavericks brass to alert them of a story to be posted on SI.com. At the center of the allegations are two former employees: ex-CEO Terdema Ussery and beat writer for Mavs.com, Earl K. Sneed.
Sneed, hired by Cuban, was once arrested at the Mavericks facility and charged with assault of his girl friend. His sentence prevented him from entering Canada and following the Mavericks for games in Toronto. He remained with the team for five years after the arrest, and ultimately was fired when an allegation against a female Mavericks employee surfaced.
Ussery was a high-profile executive, always visible at Mavericks home games. He graduated from Princeton, earned a master’s degree from Harvard and a law degree from the University of California-Berkeley. He was president of Nike Sports Management before joining Dallas in 1997. A very impressive résumé, indeed.
The claims against Ussery are the most unsettling, given his prominence with the team and within the NBA. Multiple claims have been made against him by female employees, both occurring on the road and at the home office. In a number of interviews with former female employees of the Mavericks, Sports Illustrated stated that the charges “paint a picture of a corporate culture rife with misogyny and predatory sexual behavior.” Ussery has denied such activity took place, but all of the allegations point toward abuse of power.
Some sources reported that the Mavericks office had a “locker room culture.” That may promote an image, but is unfair to the players who have had nothing to do with these charges and went out and beat the Indiana Pacers on Monday night as a three-point underdog.
To Cuban’s credit, he acted quickly in trying to reverse the potential problems. On Monday, he introduced Cynthia Marshall, an African American woman and former head of human resources for Dallas-based AT&T, as the Mavericks new CEO. In a mood rarely seen in these parts, Cuban was hushed at the press conference. Maybe his mood was caused by disbelief or maybe by embarrassment at what has happened to his team on his watch. Any way you slice it, Cuban clearly realizes the severity of the circumstances.
The NBA is conducting its own investigation. If they find that the reports are correct, Cuban stands to lose that No. 1 draft pick that he covets so much. There could be other consequences.
Cuban didn’t hire Ussery, and former NBA commissioner David Stern said on separate occasions that Ussery, “ … has done it all at the team, league and corporate level,” and is “one of the most powerful African American executives in a league dominated by black players.” Ussery considers Stern a mentor.
Sexual harassment in the work place is never acceptable. And today’s society, it is absolutely toxic. Those victims continue to suffer. On a much lesser scale, patient fans who have been waiting for the rebuilding of a championship franchise must be wondering, “How could this have happened?”