DALLAS — Mark Cuban’s jaw dropped when Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball communications Scott Tomlin sat next to him early in Wednesday’s third quarter and showed him the email from the NBA league office announcing that the rest of the season had been suspended.
“This is crazy. This can’t be true,” the Mavs owner told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi during an in-game interview, summing up his initial reaction. “I mean, it’s not within the realm of possibility. It seemed more like out of a movie than reality.”
The unprecedented action was taken after a Utah Jazz player — center Rudy Gobert, according to sources — tested positive for COVID-19.
The rest of the Mavericks’ 113-97 win played out as usual, albeit in surreal circumstances. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle was informed about the NBA’s decision as soon as Cuban and described it as “good information to have for this game” because he felt comfortable extending key players’ minutes more than he otherwise would have.
Carlisle’s recollection of his immediate reaction to the news: “We’ve got to win this f—ing game.”
Neither Cuban nor Carlisle expressed any concern about playing in front of an announced sellout crowd of 20,302 at the American Airlines Center as the coronavirus pandemic hit America and touched the NBA.
“This is not a situation where you fake it ’til you make it or try to sound or act important,” Cuban said after the game. “The NBA has hired people with expertise in those areas and they are working with people from the government and other people with expertise. We have to defer to them and that’s exactly what we will do.”
Cuban said that Mavericks players have been told to remain in Dallas while the season is suspended. Carlisle said “team activities” have not been suspended, and Cuban said the league office has informed teams they could continue to practice, treat players for injuries and conduct other routine non-game activities.
“I was very specific as was [Carlisle] to say who you talk to is very important,” Cuban said. “If bringing people in because you have downtime, no. That’s not going to work. You have to be accountable to the people you are dealing with and who you know. For your own personal safety and for everybody else’s. This is not a vacation. This is effectively self-quarantining because it’s our responsibility to be vigilant.”
Cuban said he reached out to arena employees on Tuesday, when it became apparent that at the minimum playing games without fans was a strong possibility, to find out what it would cost to financially support the game-night workers who would be losing income. He said he is in the process of developing a plan to replace the lost income, perhaps asking those hourly employees to do some charity work.
“I don’t have any details to give, but it’s certainly something that’s important to me,” Cuban said.
Cuban said the NBA has great flexibility regarding when the season might resume because arenas typically don’t have much activity in the summer. He also recognized that the NBA season is of minor relevance in the grand picture of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s stunning, but we are where we are,” Cuban said. “We have to be smart in how we respond. This is people’s lives at stakes. This isn’t about basketball, this isn’t about the Mavericks. This isn’t about when do we start, do we start? Or how do we start? This is a pandemic, a global pandemic where people’s lives are at stake. I’m a lot more worried about my kids and my mom who is 82 years old — in talking to her and telling her to stay in the house — than when we play in our next game.”