NBA referees union says NBA is letting Mark Cuban threaten and intimidate officials

AP
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Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has never been on the friendly side with NBA officials, but now the union for the league’s referees, the NBRA, is claiming that Cuban has consistently threatened and intimidated their members.

Communications between the NBRA and NBA about officiating and Cuban’s influence were obtained by Yahoo! Sports and published on Thursday. Lee Seham, legal counsel for the NBRA, says Cuban has wielded “undue influence of the league’s management of its officials.”

Perhaps the most concerning claim by the NBRA is direct influence they say Cuban has touted over the job security for individual referees.

That passage reads as such, via Yahoo!:

In response to the league rejecting Seham’s premise that Cuban holds an “inappropriate influence” over referee employment decisions, the union’s general counsel responded: “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. He has communicated to an NBRA board member, during contract negotiations, that the referees would continue to be at-will employees. He has told a referee, during a game, that he follows that referee’s game reports.”

The NBA has responded by saying Seham’s claims are an attempt to reduce transparency in officiating.

Meanwhile, Cuban has fired back at the NBRA saying, “To suggest I have influence is to suggest that the NBA officials can be influenced.”

According to Yahoo! Sports, the NBRA is upset that Cuban has flaunted his wealth in the face of NBA fines levied against him for incidents involving officials, sometimes donating double his fine amount to charity. They say that in the face of his ability to do so, the league’s punishment isn’t seen as serious.

The NBRA did work with the league last season to implement a stricter reprimand schedule that was not announced to the public, and it did appear to curb team staff incidents including those from Cuban. But the union has now said Cuban’s antics are back, and they are worried about his influence.

Since there isn’t an independent, third-party body that tracks things like beratings per-game for people like Cuban, it’s an unfortunate case of two sides making claims and standing against each other.

No doubt the NBRA would like to get some leverage on their issues with Cuban by making them public through Yahoo! Sports, and perhaps a public backlash caused by news coverage could do just that.

Cuban is a strong, outspoken figure in the NBA sphere so it will be interesting to see where it goes from here. If the union was able to push through more severe punishments last season, perhaps they are looking to do more of the same in order to cull Cuban’s interactions with them.

For now, we’ll just have to wait as the two sides hash it out.

You can read Cuban’s full response to Yahoo! Sports and the original memos between the union and the league here.