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NBA denies Dallas Mavericks' protest, fines Mavs owner Mark Cuban $500K

NEW YORK — The NBA announced today that Commissioner Adam Silver has denied the Dallas Mavericks’ protest of their February 22 game against the Atlanta Hawks and fined Mavericks Governor Mark Cuban $500,000 for his public criticism and detrimental conduct regarding NBA officiating.

The NBA issued the following statement:

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The Mavericks’ protest centered on a successful field goal by Atlanta’s John Collins as a whistle was blown for goaltending by the Mavericks late in the fourth quarter. The goaltending call was overturned on instant replay review, but the Replay Center Official ruled that Collins’ goal should be scored because he was in the act of shooting at the time the goaltending call was made. Dallas contends that the officials misapplied the playing rules by allowing the basket.

Immediately after the game ended, Mr. Cuban walked onto the court and approached game officials shaking his head and directing comments toward them. This marked the second time he walked onto the court to challenge a call during the game. Following the game, Mr. Cuban spoke to reporters in the arena and tweeted several times that night and into the next day with comments that were highly critical, personal and demeaning to the league and its officiating staff. The next day, Dallas filed its protest of the game pursuant to league rules. Over the course of the next several days, Mr. Cuban continued his public criticism of NBA officiating.

After a comprehensive investigation, Commissioner Silver determined there was no misapplication of the playing rules. The Replay Center Official correctly understood the rules to require that Collins’ basket count if he was in the act of shooting when the goaltending call was made. The Replay Center Official also correctly followed the established process of replay review.

The league’s investigation included an analysis of the game footage showing that the whistle began to sound one-fifteenth of a second before Collins gained possession of the ball. However, it is well-established by prior NBA protest decisions that a factual determination by game officials – including replay officials – that is shown in a post-game review to be incorrect is not a misapplication of the playing rules. While officials strive to get every call right, games cannot be replayed when, after the fact and free from the need to make rulings in real time, a different judgment about events on the playing floor can be made. For these reasons, Commissioner Silver found that the extraordinary remedy of granting a game protest and replaying the last portion of a completed game was not warranted.

The NBA further determined that Mr. Cuban’s conduct toward game officials – along with his public criticism of NBA officiating, the officiating program, and individuals who work in the league’s Referee Operations Department – violated NBA rules.

It is a recognized part of sports for fans and the media at times to criticize officiating, but team executives must be held to a higher standard. A team owner’s effort to influence refereeing decisions during and after a game creates the perception of an unfair competitive advantage and thereby undermines the integrity of the game. Demeaning league employees also creates an intimidating workplace environment. With an increased focus on respectful conduct by coaches, players and fans during games, the actions of team executives should set an example and not lower expectations for appropriate behavior in our arenas.

Unlike fans or the media, team executives are provided with several formal channels to voice their concerns with the league office about officiating. In fact, their input – including Mr. Cuban’s – has helped the NBA enhance its officiating program through improved management, training, transparency, and technology. These enhancements include:

  • The Labor Relations Committee, chaired by Charlotte Hornets Chairman Michael Jordan, overseeing officiating.
  • The league office increasing its collaboration with the Competition Committee – comprised of team executives, coaches, players and referees – to provide regular input on the playing rules and officiating-related matters, which most recently led to the implementation of the Coach’s Challenge.
  • The development of the NBA Replay Center and the Last Two-Minute Reports to increase accuracy, transparency, and consistency of calls.
  • Hiring seasoned executives from the top levels of business and the U.S. military to manage league operations, and shifting our top-ranked on-court referee (Monty McCutchen) to oversee the training of new referees in the NBA, WNBA and NBA G League. This includes creating several senior referee management positions to fill the role of retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, the former Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy and the Academy’s first female Rhodes Scholar, who recently left her role as Senior Vice President and Head of Referee Operations for family reasons.
  • Exploring new technologies, like artificial intelligence, to better understand and thereby improve officiating, including with respect to goaltending and other calls that are particularly difficult to make in real time.
  • Utilizing analytics to evaluate and rate officials, including tracking every call of every game made by every NBA official, and soliciting feedback from head coaches after every game.
  • Expanding the pipeline of NBA officials from a more diverse pool of candidates.

Officiating is one of the toughest jobs in sports. While officials remain accountable for their on-court performance, maintaining competitive fairness and the integrity of the game is a fundamental obligation of the league office, team owners and personnel, and players.