The #MeToo movement has reached the NBA.
After Sports Illustrated broke a bombshell report late Tuesday night on sexual harassment at the Dallas Mavericks organization, the team says it has “hired outside counsel to conduct a thorough and independent investigation.”
Two people within the Mavericks organization are cited in the report: Terdema Ussery, former team president and CEO who left in 2015 after 18 years with the team, is accused by multiple women of sexual harassment and touching; Earl Sneed, a beat reporter for Mavs.com, pleaded guilty to domestic assault in 2012 but is accused of additional instances of violence against women. The team fired Sneed this week.
Now, in the wake of the story, fans and media are asking what team owner Mark Cuban knew and when he knew it.
But the focus will now also turn to the NBA league office and commissioner Adam Silver. How will Silver put out the second major fire of his tenure as commissioner?
After the story came out, the NBA issued a statement that promised: “We will closely monitor the independent investigation into this matter.” Now it has already taken one active step that could have reverberations if people use it: the NBA is setting up a confidential hotline for employees of teams or the league to report misconduct.
Recall that in April 2014, just two months after Silver officially became NBA commissioner, a tape emerged of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racist comments to his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, including about Magic Johnson. Silver acted swiftly and decisively: within a month, the NBA had banned Sterling for life and helped steer the sale of his team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
The situation was a victory for Silver at the very outset of his tenure and established him as a socially conscious commissioner determined to address issues quickly. That reputation has only grown in the time since, as Silver has publicly supported legalized, regulated sports betting in the US and advocated for the right of NBA players to speak out on social and political issues.
Now he has another opportunity, or, seen from a different angle, responsibility: to oversee the house-cleaning at the Mavericks quickly and fully. The team has fired Sneed and fired its head of HR.
But the questions about Cuban’s awareness will not go away quietly. ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asks, “Are you a business that’s okay with this kind of stuff, or aren’t you?” ESPN’s Jemele Hill writes that Cuban “betrayed the women in his organization” and that the NBA and Silver must “send a no-tolerance message” to Cuban.
Cuban told Sports Illustrated he knew nothing about the culture of harassment Ussery had created: “The only awareness I have is because I heard you guys were looking into some things.” But as a former Mavericks employee told the magazine, “Trust me, Mark knows everything that goes on.”
Silver and the NBA forced Sterling to sell his team. Might Cuban have to do the same? (In an incident to the harassment report, the league fined Cuban $600,000 this week for comments he made on the radio about tanking.) This time around, the situation is arguably harder, and even more urgent, than the Sterling crisis was. Sterling was a little-known owner mostly absent from the spotlight, while Cuban is widely liked and is constantly speaking out in the media; and the Mavericks report is part of a larger cultural movement that is having a major impact on a wide range of industries.
With an investigation ongoing by the team, the larger onus will be on Silver to bring down discipline, depending on what emerges. His approach could end up being another PR win for both Silver and the NBA, one that other pro commissioners can learn from.
Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.