Referees Allege NBA Is Allowing Mark Cuban to Hold Power over Them with Threats

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY - DECEMBER 31:  Owner Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks yells at a referee during the NBA game with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets on December 31, 2005 at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The Mavs won 95-90. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has reportedly drawn the ire of the National Basketball Referees Association, which alleged he has attempted to gain an edge by directing "threats and intimidation" toward officials, The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Thursday.

Specifically, Wojnarowski reported NBRA general counsel Lee Seham penned a letter to NBA president of league operations Byron Spruell alleging Cuban has violated the league's constitution by exercising "undue influence of the league's management of its officials."

Seham added the following, per Wojnarowski: "We consider the threat to the integrity of NBA basketball presented by Mr. Cuban's misconduct to be real and growing."

Wojnarowski also shared a statement from NBA spokesman Mike Bass: "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."

With regard to the union's allegation that Cuban has tried to extract a competitive advantage by denigrating referees, Seham provided the following examples to illustrate the referees' point, per Wojnarowski:

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.

Cuban replied to the NBRA's assertions in an email to The Vertical:

To suggest I have influence is to suggest that the NBA officials can be influenced. 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. As far as my influence on employment, several years ago I sent a list to the NBA of officials who had been NBA officials for more than a decade and never made the playoffs.

I asked why we weren't bringing in better officials than those who weren't able to crack the top half of officials. [I think it's 37 who get selected as playoff refs.] I also asked if being an NBA official was a lifetime job and at what point do we recognize that there is someone else out there who can do a better job? I did this knowing that any terminated refs could receive substantial pensions. As far as anything else, I've been the same way since I bought the team and have no reason to change.

Cuban, 58, has a history of criticizing the league's officiating. He's reportedly racked up more than $1 million in fines for taking officials to task publicly. According to ESPN.com, he was slapped with a $500,000 punishment in 2002 for saying referee Ed Rush "might have been a great ref, but I wouldn't hire him to manage a Dairy Queen" and that Rush's "interest is not in the integrity of the game or improving the officiating."

The Mavericks owner and Shark Tank star also came out in support of the NBA's Last Two Minute Reports when the league announced it was making an effort to be more transparent with its officiating.

"No one ever wants or expects perfection, but when you're not transparent, people tend to think you're hiding something," Cuban said in January 2014, according to ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon. "And I think that hurts us. That hurts just the connection we have with our fanbase. That's my opinion."

More recently, Cuban didn't shy away from putting referee Ken Mauer on blast after he missed a double-dribble call against the Brooklyn Nets' Bojan Bogdanovic during a Nov. 29 game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

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"Suspend him, demote him, make him ref a game in the D-League," Cuban said, per MacMahon

Although the missed call didn't affect his team, Cuban explained why he takes intense interest in the performance of officials across the league.

"Because the quality of officiating matters in this game, you know?" he said, per MacMahon. "Standings are impacted. Mistakes happen. Lots of calls are hard, but not all of them. Some of them are just lack of focus and attention, and that's the one thing you should be able to avoid at all times, particularly from such an experienced ref."

Cuban's Mavericks, who are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, are 11-27 on the season and occupy the Western Conference cellar entering Thursday night's game against the Phoenix Suns. 

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