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Dallas Mavericks' short-lived national anthem policy shows issue persists

"If you think the anthem needs to be played before sporting events, then play it before every movie, concert, church service and the start of every workday at every business,” New Orleans Pelicans head coach Stan Van Gundy said.
Atlanta Hawks v Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks and the Atlanta Hawks stand for the national anthem before the game Feb. 10, 2021, at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.Glenn James / NBAE via Getty Images

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s decision, which was short-lived, to not have the national anthem played before home games is the latest chapter in how professional sports address activism.

Cuban, an outspoken billionaire, reversed course once the NBA released its statement, but he also expressed hope that people “who feel that the anthem does not represent them” would continue to have their voices “respected and heard.”

“There was never any final decision that was made that we would not play the anthem,” he told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in a separate interview.

But after Cuban’s decision spotlighted the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games, is it time for the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association to revisit that league policy in some manner, or even consider changing it?

“I think it will probably end up happening,” the attorney Mark Geragos told NBC News. “There are reasons for it to be a discussion. It should be (discussed) as opposed to being a mandate.”

Geragos represents the former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The ex-San Francisco 49ers quarterback filed a collusion grievance against the league in 2017 after no NFL teams signed him, and despite Kaepernick having led the 49ers to a Super Bowl. He had started kneeling during the national anthem in the 2016 NFL season to protest “systematic oppression” and reached a confidential settlement with the league in 2019.

Kaepernick, 33, remains a free agent.

Image: San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7, free safety Eric Reid #35, and outside linebacker Eli Harold #58 of the San Francisco 49ers kneel on the sidelines during the national anthem before a game on Sept. 25, 2016.Steve Dykes / Getty Images file

“My immediate reaction is, it’s tone deaf,” Geragos said of the NBA’s national anthem policy. “I don’t quite understand it.” Geragos, who represents the Big 3 basketball league, said the league does not have the anthem played before games; a Big 3 spokesman confirmed that the league made that decision in 2017.

“I thought when Cuban had announced it, that he was following what we have done,” he said.

One Mavericks player, Willie Cauley-Stein, lauded Cuban for not being afraid to take a stance.

“One thing I’ll say about Mark is he’s not scared of what’s being talked about,” Cauley-Stein said. “And when you’ve got a guy that shows his full character and he’s not being a businessman and he’s like human, that’s big time for a player to go through.”

The league and the players’ union did not respond to requests for comment. Aside from Cuban making public remarks on the issue to ESPN and a few other outlets, another notable NBA name to blast the anthem policy was New Orleans Pelicans head coach Stan Van Gundy.

“This should happen everywhere. If you think the anthem needs to be played before sporting events, then play it before every movie, concert, church service and the start of every workday at every business,” Van Gundy tweeted Wednesday. “What good reason is there to play the anthem before a game?”

While the NBA policy requires players to stand during the national anthem, Commissioner Adam Silver has not enforced that rule.

“I recognize that this is a very emotional issue on both sides of the equation in America right now, and I think it calls for real engagement rather than rule enforcement,” he said in December.

More than two decades ago, the NBA was embroiled in controversy when the player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand during the anthem while he was a member of the Denver Nuggets. He was eventually suspended for one game, but with the union’s help, he reached an agreement that he would stand for the anthem, but would be able to bow his head in prayer. He told The Undefeated in a 2016 report that he has no regrets about his decision, despite the adversity he faced afterward.

“It’s priceless to know that I can go to sleep knowing that I stood to my principles,” Abdul-Rauf told The Undefeated. “Whether I go broke, whether they take my life, whatever it is, I stood on principles. To me, that is worth more than wealth and fame.”

The league has progressed dramatically since 1996, but a yearslong tradition of playing the national anthem before games underscores that there are still other changes that need to be, at the very least, a point of conversation.