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NBA referees union says Mark Cuban has unfair influence over league officials

The league and the NBRA has been going back and forth on this matter for more than a year.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The National Basketball Referees Association believes Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has an unfair influence over the NBA’s treatment of referees that leads to a competitive advantage, according to a report by The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

In a discourse between the NBRA and the NBA that has lasted for more than a year, memorandums have been exchanged between the two sides laying out the NBRA’s complaints about Cuban and other owners. Wojnarowski published the memorandums and an email from Cuban in their entirety here.

“We consider the threat to the integrity of NBA basketball presented by Mr. Cuban’s misconduct to be real and growing,” NBRA general counsel Lee Seham wrote in one memorandum from Dec. 9.

Here are some of the complaints the NBRA has levied against Cuban.

  • The NBRA believes Cuban holds influence over referees’ careers. “No other owner has communicated to our members with such force that he exercises control over their careers. He has communicated that he played a pivotal role in the termination of Kevin Fehr, a referee who met league performance standards,” wrote Seham.
  • Pointing to two in-game instances in November, the NBRA accused Cuban of berating officials from his location near the bench without additional fines.
  • In memos obtained by The Vertical, Seham voices the belief that the league office can’t “control or mollify Cuban” and that his behavior will embolden others to break league rules.
  • In another memo sent to referees in 2016, Seham wrote: “Mr. Cuban’s practice of mocking NBA fines, by donating twice the fine dollar figure to charity, has convinced the NBA that it cannot deter his misconduct in this manner … The abandonment of any enforcement action by the NBA has communicated to Mr. Cuban that he can violate league rules … with impunity.”

Cuban has been a long-time, outspoken critic of referees since purchasing the Mavericks in 2000, accruing more than $1 million in fines from the league. Lately, Cuban’s complaints focus on the referee’s management, which he sees as ineffective and directly leading to inferior officiating on the court.

“I'm not going to stop being aggressive about trying to force change in the officiating group,” Cuban wrote in an email to The Vertical. “It's not about the officials. It's about the situations they are put by their management that make their jobs far more difficult. Managing NBA officials requires the ability to manage. Just because you were an NBA crew chief doesn't make you a good manager of officials any more than being a good salesperson makes you a good sales manager Until we have top notch managers managing officials, improvement will be difficult.”

The NBA has not sided with the NBRA, with spokesperson Mike Bass telling The Vertical on Thursday: “We have no specific response to Lee Seham, the lawyer who represents the referees union. This approach is just the latest in a series of steps Mr. Seham has taken in an attempt to undermine the necessary transparency we have brought to our game.”

The league also rejected the idea that Cuban holds “inappropriate influence” over their decisions regarding 64 referees.

“To suggest I have influence is to suggest that the NBA officials can be influenced,” Cuban told The Vertical in an email. “If an official can be influenced by pressure from anyone, they should not be in the NBA. I don’t believe they can be influenced.”

Cuban referenced a time where he sent the NBA a list of officials who had never been chosen for the playoffs, something that generally denotes the top tier of officials in the league. Cuban emphasized that a referee position shouldn’t be seen as a lifetime position, and that the NBA should move on from officials who don’t meet the highest standards.

The Vertical also reported that the league sent a memo to teams and referees early last year detailing a much stricter in-game conduct code for team personnel, one that cracked down harshly on “profanity or derogatory language towards a referee,” especially language that could be heard by fans sitting nearby.

The NBRA alleges that the NBA has not enforcing that memo as well as it should this season. The union also pointed out instances by Suns owner Robert Sarver last season, and ejections of the Clippers’ Austin and Doc Rivers in December, where fines were not issued. They believe that, according to that memo, fines should been levied.