Let’s imagine Draymond Green isn’t wrong and Mark Cuban isn’t evil. It’s not exactly the most common way to approach polarizing issues these days, but it’s worth a shot.
To recap: the Golden State Warriors forward criticized using the term “owner” to describe majority shareholders of professional sports teams, saying it sets a bad precedent and gives off the wrong mindset. The Dallas Mavericks’ Cuban fired back by demanding an apology for mischaracterizing the title.
“To try to create some connotation that owning equity in a company that you busted your ass for is the equivalent of ownership in terms of people, that’s just wrong,” Cuban told ESPN. “That’s just wrong in every which way.”
Both sides appeared ready to battle. And this is exactly where pausing the argument is crucial.
Because it’s true that Green isn’t overreacting here. And it’s true that Cuban isn’t the enemy. But while these men both have a wealth of knowledge at their disposal, and Big Ten educations to back them up, they aren’t really arguing the same thing at all. Cuban took this to a place where business terms and historical context share a playing field. They don’t.
There’s finally an important discussion taking place without repercussions. There are no protests. No one is threatening a lockout or pulling advertisements. The rhetoric is digestible, if not always agreeable.
An issue was raised about something that’s always been accepted. In the process, it made people uncomfortable. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, as long as the conversation continues.
But for that to happen, Cuban needs to show the same amount of respect for language as he does for his business empire.
This all started after Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said of NFL players protesting racial inequality during the national anthem that the league “can’t have inmates running the prison.” Green responded to the comment with anInstagram post questioning the use of certain titles in sports.
It’s easy, then, to understand why Cuban became frustrated. As the man in charge of the Mavericks put it, using the term “owner” is pure business jargon. Nothing more.
Green, however, is not talking about business etiquette. As he clearly said, this is about perception. And if people perceive the term “owner” as relating to the employees they manage, rather than the size of their stake in the franchise, what difference does it make if the intention behind the title comes from a place devoid of emotion?
“[Cuban is] not able to understand what it’s like to be an African-American and certain terms being thrown around and how we feel about them,” Golden State’s Andre Iguodala told ESPN.
For someone like Cuban, who scrapped and clawed his way to the top of the business world, the term “NBA owner” connotes success. He achieved a multibillion-dollar net worth coming from a middle class family. None of that changes if he does as Green asks and uses the term “chairman” instead of “owner.” His team’s value certainly doesn’t decrease.
Which isn’t to say Green didn’t face his own adversity en route to becoming one of the top players in a league that’s arguably never teemed with more talent. But here again is the difference — Green still feels the weight of the term “owner,” regardless of how much he achieves in his own career.
The NBA has just two minority owners. One of them is Michael Jordan. The other is Vivek Ranadivé in Sacramento. James Dolan didn’t bust his ass to buy the New York Knicks. Micky Arison inherited his father’s company before purchasing the Miami Heat. Cuban may have busted his ass, but not all of his fellow owners fall into that realm.
The argument here isn’t that Cuban has worked harder than Green or vice-versa. But as long as Cuban and Green continue to parse semantics, that’s what it will boil down to. It’s a difficult cycle to break and even those within are getting worn down.
“I’m mentally drained,” Warriors forward David West told ESPN when asked about the controversy. “There’s no way to put into words some of the stuff that we’re dealing with.”
West is one of the league’s most thoughtful and articulate figures. This is difficult, even for him. Everyone is uncomfortable. Social constructs that seemingly didn’t matter to many people for decades are suddenly being questioned daily.
If being an NBA owner were something Cuban aspired to, arguing that the term is evil would paint him in a light he doesn’t see himself in.
It’s not Cuban’s fault that when African-American athletes talk about their white team owner, images of plantations are conjured up, just as there is no escaping this country’s history of racism and slavery.
Cuban, as a majority shareholder in the NBA, has to reconcile this. Green has offered an opportunity to do so. The only way this gets anywhere is to continue the conversation. To understand the language at play here, even if the origins don’t always line up. To feel uncomfortable, even if you believe you haven’t done anything wrong.
The NFL tried to run from this type of discussion when Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem. It chose to let anger and inaction fester until neither side had much control over the debate
Sports have never shied away from social issues. Sports leagues may never find one with as much meaning and stakes as low as the debate over Owner vs. Chairman. All each side has to do is talk it through respectfully and listen intensely.
These are conversations that should’ve taken place decades ago when the league integrated. Instead they are happening in the hyper-partisan, uber-political times of 2017 — though the idea that there’s ever a good time to talk about social inequality is as laughable as pretending it doesn’t exist. That this topic demands attention at all irks both sides for opposite reasons.
Cuban is right: the title is just jargon. Iguodala is right: Cuban can’t empathize with a term that’s never haunted him. Green is right: perception is all that matters. And West is right: it’s all incredibly draining.
That’s how you know the discussion is worth having. It’s what makes the discussion all the more important.
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