Sports Illustrated published an explosive report about the Dallas Mavericks late Tuesday night. In it, SI reporters Jon Wertheim and Jessica Luther shined a light on the alleged sexual misconduct involving high-ranking Mavericks employees that has reportedly become pervasive within the franchise over the last decade. They also pointed out the apparent negligence that has been shown by those at the very top of the organization, including team owner Mark Cuban.
According to the report, former Mavericks team president and CEO Terdema Ussery—who joined the team back in the late 1990s prior to Cuban buying the team before leaving in 2015—was accused of sexual misconduct and acting inappropriately toward female Mavericks employees on numerous occasions throughout his tenure with the team. Several of those women told SI that Ussery frequently made sexually inappropriate comments to them while they worked for the Mavericks. They also revealed Ussery had gotten into the habit of touching women within the workplace.
Outside of speaking on Ussery’s alleged sexual misconduct while working for the Mavericks, several of the women interviewed by SI also talked about how the Mavericks’ brass appeared to turn a blind eye to allegations made against Ussery by employees. According to the SI report, Mavericks employees were frustrated with the way Mavericks human resources head Buddy Pittman—who was hired in 1998 shortly after the very first sexual misconduct allegations were made against Ussery—handled complaints against the Mavericks president. They told SI Pittman did little to stop Ussery from behaving the way he did, and they suggested the Mavericks’ working culture eventually devolved into a "real-life Animal House." One woman interviewed by SI even revealed that she was once told to "shut up and do [your] job" when she reported sexual misconduct on the part of Ussery to the Mavericks’ former vice president of marketing Paul Monroe.
The sexual misconduct allegations aren’t the only aspect of the SI story making headlines right now, either. Elsewhere in the report, Wertheim and Luther broke down the way the Mavericks chose to handle a series of domestic violence incidents involving a team reporter for Mavericks.com. According to the report, Earl K. Sneed was accused of hitting a female colleague he was dating in 2014, just two years after he pleaded guilty to assaulting an ex-girlfriend in a separate domestic violence incident. But despite the allegations against him, the Mavericks continued to allow Sneed to work for them, which eventually forced the female employee he had been dating to leave the organization and seek employment elsewhere.
The Mavericks attempted to get out ahead of the SI report by releasing a statement right before it was published on Tuesday night.
The Mavericks revealed they were launching an investigation into the allegations made against the team and some of its former and current employees right away.
The Dallas Mavericks have received information about behavior in our workplace that appears to have violated the organization’s standards of conduct. It has been alleged that a former officer of the organization engaged in various acts of inappropriate conduct toward women over a period of years. This individual left the employment of the Mavericks nearly three years ago and the Mavericks have only learned of the scope of these complaints in the past days.
The Mavericks organization takes these allegations extremely seriously. Yesterday we notified the league office and immediately hired outside counsel to conduct a thorough and independent investigation. The investigation will focus on the specific allegations related to this former employee, and will look more broadly at our company’s workplace practices and policies. In addition, an employee whose job was to receive and investigate such complaints and report them accurately and fully, has been suspended pending the conclusion of our investigation.
In a separate matter, we have also learned that an employee misled the organization about a prior domestic violence incident. This employee was not candid about the situation and has been terminated.
There is no room for such conduct in the Mavericks’ workplace — or any workplace.
The Mavericks will provide all necessary resources to ensure that every current and former employee receives appropriate support. We will also conduct comprehensive training through experts and take the necessary steps to ensure that our workplace is a safe, respectful and productive one for all Dallas Mavericks employees.
We are committed — to our employees, our team and our fans — to meet the goals of dignity, security and fairness that define the Dallas Mavericks.
We will not make any further comments until after the completion of the investigation.
Cuban also spoke with SI as part of their report and denied any knowledge of any of the allegations made within it.
"This is all new to me," he said. "The only awareness I have is because I heard you guys were looking into some things…Based off of what I’ve read here, we just fired our HR person. I don’t have any tolerance for what I’ve read."
Cuban went on to say: "It’s wrong. It’s abhorrent. It’s not a situation we condone. I can’t tell you how many times, particularly since all this [#MeToo] stuff has been coming out recently I asked our HR director, ‘Do we have a problem? Do we have any issues I have to be aware of?’ And the answer was no."
Cuban also vowed to make things right within his organization. "I want to deal with this issue," Cuban told SI. "I mean, this is, obviously there’s a problem in the Mavericks organization and we’ve got to fix it. That’s it. And we’re going to take every step. It’s not something we tolerate. I don’t want it. It’s not something that’s acceptable. I’m embarrassed, to be honest with you, that it happened under my ownership, and it needs to be fixed. Period. End of story."
But many are wondering how Cuban, who is known for being one of the most hands-on owners in the entire NBA, could have been kept in the dark about what was allegedly happening in his offices. One woman who spoke with SI said, "Trust me, Mark knows everything that goes on," while others who have read the SI report have suggested it would be nearly impossible for Cuban not to know something about the allegations, given the fact that some of them are two decades old.
Ussery shared a brief statement with SI denying the allegations made against him in the SI story. "I am deeply disappointed that anonymous sources have made such outright false and inflammatory accusations against me," Ussery said in his statement. "During my career with the Mavericks, I have strived to conduct myself with character, integrity and empathy for others. During my nearly 20 year tenure with the Mavericks, I am not aware of any sexual harassment complaints about me or any findings by the organization that I engaged in inappropriate conduct."
Sneed, meanwhile, shared a brief statement of his own with The Dallas Morning News.
He acknowledged the domestic violence incidents. At the same time, Sneed seemed to suggest Cuban was on board with the way the Mavericks handled his employment with the team following the incident involving a woman who worked for the organization.
While both instances described in the report are damning and language used is not accurate, the two relationships described in the report are not something I am proud to have been a part of. I underwent much counseling after both situations, under the direction of [Mavs vice president of human resources] Buddy Pittman, and I feel like I grew from that counseling. I also signed a contract stating that I would not have one-on-one contact or fraternize with female employees after the inaccurately described incident with my female co-worker, who was a live-in girlfriend. I abided by the details of that contract for four years, and received counseling during that period to avoid future instances. I thank Buddy Pittman for helping me to grow during that time, and I thank Mark Cuban for his willingness to help facilitate that growth.
The NBA has responded to the SI report in a statement. The league said it plans to monitor to Mavericks' investigation into the allegations that were made in the report before taking any action.
You can read the full SI report here.