NBA Fact or Fiction: Mark Cuban, Miriam Adelson, the NBA and the ethics in business

Each week during the 2023-24 NBA season, we will take a deeper dive into some of the league’s biggest storylines in an attempt to determine whether the trends are based more in fact or fiction moving forward.

This week's topic: Mark Cuban's problematic sale of the Dallas Mavericks

When the "Unite the Right" rally for white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulted in the murder of a counter-protestor and injuries to dozens more in August 2017, NBA figureheads, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, were among the nation's most vocal critics of President Donald Trump's mild response.

Trump's answer to newsreels that began with torchbearers chanting, "Jews will not replace us," and ended with a neo-Nazi plowing his car into the crowd of counter-protestors was a parade of equivalencies drawn between what he described as "this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides — on many sides." He laid "blame on both sides," even suggesting there "were very fine people on both sides."

"I feel numb. Not about the fact he didn't condemn it, but because it didn't surprise me he didn't condemn it," Cuban said. "But let me add that it's our mistake to expect someone to be who they are not. It's our responsibility to understand who he is. ... I'm done blaming things on Trump. We have to take responsibility for what happens in our country. This isn't the first time American Jews and other minorities have been under attack, and it won't be the last. It's up to us to find ways to come together and solve this problem."

"It's sad what's going on in Charlottesville. Is this the direction our country is heading? Make America Great Again, huh?! He said that," LeBron James added over a series of X, formerly Twitter, statements in the ensuing days. "Hate has always existed in America. Yes we know that but Donald Trump just made it fashionable again."

This reignited a longstanding feud between Trump and Cuban and fueled another for Trump and the NBA. Stephen Curry soon joined the league's chorus of criticism for Trump, and the White House withdrew its invitation to the 2017 champion Golden State Warriors. A term-long freeze would flare often in the years to come.

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS - OCTOBER 25: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban looks on during the fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs at Frost Bank Center on October 25, 2023 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Mark Cuban has been a constant critic of former President Donald Trump. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Some prominent voices, however, remained silent. Israeli-American billionaires Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, Trump's top donors, withheld comment. Israel Hayom, an Israeli newspaper owned by the Adelsons, was the country's lone major outlet not to forcefully condemn the U.S. president's Charlottesville response.

This conflict of interest and many others apparently had no bearing on Cuban's decision this week to sell a majority stake in the Mavericks to the Adelson family, pending approval by the NBA's board of governors. If this is "taking responsibility for what happens in our country," what woeful commentary on business ethics.

As the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s death approached in 2018, Trump reportedly asked lawmakers about immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African nations, "Why are we having all these people from s***hole countries come here?" and wondered aloud if Norwegians could emigrate instead.

Toronto Raptors executive Masai Ujiri, who was raised in Nigeria and has served as director of the NBA's Basketball Without Borders Africa program, responded, "This cannot be the message we accept from the leader of the free world." NBA commissioner Adam Silver called Trump's alleged remarks "disappointing," adding, "Masai will not in any way be deterred from the work he is doing just as the league won't be."

Five years later, the NBA is on the verge of embracing those arguably most responsible for Trump's political career. It is unsurprising, given the presence of the DeVos family and other Trump loyalists already on the board of governors, and it reinforces a message to the league's players that finances preside over justice.

When the NBA convened in the Orlando bubble during a pandemic that would claim the lives of more than 400,000 Americans during Trump's presidency, players wore jerseys displaying messages of social justice that ranged from "Respect Us" to "Education Reform." They kneeled during the national anthem in a unified rejection of the recent police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the police shooting of Jacob Blake, among others.

In a subsequent interview with Fox Sports Radio, Trump responded to players and their protests by saying, "Some are very nasty — very, very nasty — and frankly very dumb," and, "There was a nastiness about the NBA the way it was done, too. The NBA is in trouble. Big trouble. Bigger trouble than they understand."

All the while, the Adelsons were the largest financial contributors to Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, his legal defense fund against the investigation into Russian interference of the election, his 2020 campaign and the Republican Attorneys General Association, whose Rule of Law Defense Fund allegedly rallied and organized protesters at the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, including many "Unite the Right" participants.

Sheldon Adelson died five days after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the age of 87.

"Trump is a patriot. He is keenly aware of the cost to the United States of losing credibility," Miriam Adelson wrote in a 2019 front-page editorial for the Las Vegas Review-Journal (owned by the Adelsons), after a contentious choice to move Israel's U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. "Would it be too much to pray for a day when the Bible gets a 'Book of Trump,' much like it has a 'Book of Esther' celebrating the deliverance of the Jews from ancient Persia?"

Trump awarded Miriam Adelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2018. She reportedly shared dinner last month with Trump, who over the last decade has described Cuban as, among other things, "a jerk," "an arrogant, crude, dope" and a "weak man with a big mouth" who is "not smart enough to run for president."

That last bit came shortly after Cuban's 2017 criticism of Trump. When Under Armour founder Kevin Plank called Trump "a real asset for the country," and Curry, one of the company's most prominent spokespeople, responded, "I agree with that description, if you remove the 'et' from asset," Cuban told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "I’m proud of Steph for standing up for what he believes in. It’s a tough situation for CEOs."

"In the bigger scheme of things, our country benefits from peaceful activism a lot more than it benefits from one more shoe being sold, or one more basketball ticket being sold, for that matter," Cuban added in that same interview. "The people that say, 'Stay away from politics,' are the people that are looking for politics."

So, what swayed the man who believes that to partner with the people who funded the ire of the NBA's political activism? For starters, a $3.5 billion franchise valuation, control of basketball operations in Dallas and the promise of "a new arena ... in the middle of a resort and casino," so long as Texas' legislation to legalize sports gambling passes in November. The leading lobbyist for that legislation? Adelson's Las Vegas Sands Corporation.

Determination: Fact. Mark Cuban's sale of the Dallas Mavericks raises serious ethical concerns in the NBA.

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