The takeaway from Mark Cuban’s decision to no longer allow the National Anthem to be played before Dallas Mavericks games is this: Nobody took anything from that decision. The absence of the anthem was noticed the way the anthem itself is noticed at games where it does play. Not at all, at least before The Athletic’s Tim Cato learned of it Monday night.
The temptation is to simply lean back smugly and announce, “We rest our case” and move on to whatever else the day disgorges upon us. But Cuban’s decision, which he acted upon after getting notice from NBA commissioner Adam Silver that the league wouldn’t raise a fuss, is making a statement that the anthem is either less helpful than it is divisive, or is just two minutes and change that nobody much cares about one way or another, save those musical acts who like singing or playing a difficult song before captive and indifferent audiences.
Cuban’s decision also happened in Texas, a state that can be safely characterized as big on patriotic ceremony, so the fact that it wasn’t noticed before now is also a statement. I mean, during shameless pandering … er, election season, Texas Senator Ted Cruz got into a Twitter battle with Cuban last July about the players kneeling for the anthem, but the issue didn’t sufficiently linger with the senator when Cuban removed the item of contention entirely at Christmas, when the NBA season began and Jesus was presumably paying attention to imagined political slights.
While we won’t guess at any ulterior motives Cuban might have (it’s more fun to wait until they reveal themselves organically), he has just asked the question that has been speculated upon since the anthem debate began before most of you were even dirty looks in your parents’ eyes. Specifically, why do people care about something they don’t notice when it’s gone? Cuban has run his own experiment that he can now take back to Charlotte and Cleveland and Memphis and Milwaukee and San Antonio and San Francisco, or not take anywhere at all, leaving only the zen of nothingness to sit in silent mockery of a tradition that people like to bloviate about but rarely honor. He stood the argument about kneeling on its head by simply simply removing the cause of the kneeling. It is amazing that nobody else looked at the problem that way. In a binary screaming match of kneel-or-no-kneel, Cuban opted for a more traditional parenting approach—pick your battles.
And having decided to defer on an issue of standing around for a couple of minutes thinking of a million other things like beer or where the car keys are or if the kids really need those $180 hoodies they’re yammering about, he provided compelling evidence that the battle was never about the song at all, but the players being seen and made to obey the boss. Cuban merely offered the non-binary idea that it didn’t need to be either, and other than admiring the Mavs’ organization for keeping the secret nobody was trying to uncover, we are left with one less stupid cultural touchstone over which to argue.
Now the fun will be in finding out if any of the other 29 NBA team owners (or maybe the 31 NHL owners, or the 12 WNBA owners, etc.) have done the same thing while nobody has noticed, or plan to do the same. It’s actually a bit like how this all started five years ago, when Colin Kaepernick knelt in civilian clothes on the San Francisco 49ers bench without anyone paying him even a fraction of a heed. It wasn’t until he put on his recognizable costume that the nation saw an opportunity to wet itself in rage over a song played too many times in so many places that it dissembled over time into white noise (pun intended).
As for the Mavericks, they are 11-14 and in 13th place in the Western Conference. I assume Ted Cruz will take note of that, as soon as one of his staff members figures out whether its worth the effort to pander out a position that will resonate with the same percentage of people who noticed that the national anthem wasn’t being played in a place called American Airlines Center.
And when Cruz is done with that, maybe someone will remind him that he likes the anthem so much, he can sing one of his own rather than having someone else provide it for him. That’s an argument that ought to resonate with him, but as we are seeing in real time, probably isn’t a big vote-getter any more.
Update (2:08 p.m. ET):
And then the gaff was blown. The league office, which seemed to be okay with Cuban on this, suddenly wasn’t, and put out a statement saying that all teams would play the anthem after all, as though every other team had already paid for in-arena flyovers from the local Air Force base. Well, it was glorious in the hours it lasted before the tight-arses in the league office worried about the ghost of Michael Flynn. The point remains the same, though. Mark Cuban showed how much the anthem doesn’t matter, and did it without ever saying a word, which is hard for him.