The Dallas Mavericks are consistently white in a black league. Why? | Dallas Mavericks

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In 2020, the NBA was 74.2% black and 16.9% white. It seems every decade, the white NBA player becomes less relevant. Yet one franchise has often kept the dream of mediocre white guys alive: the Dallas Mavericks. In 15 of the last 21 Mavs seasons, there were three or more white players on the 12-man active roster. In more than half of those 15 seasons there were at least four white players, not to mention at least two starting white players. The Mavericks, in the literal sense, do not look like the rest of the league.

It’s tempting to put this down to racism or at least unconscious bias on the part of the Mavericks and their owner, Mark Cuban. But, if anything, the opposite is true. Although the Mavericks have a dubious history of toxic workplace culture when it comes to female employees, Cuban has thrown his support behind Black Lives Matter and has appointed a black CEO (Cynthia Marshall), president (Terdema Ussery), head coaches (Jason Kidd, Quinn Buckner, Jim Cleamons and Avery Johnson) and general manager (Nico Harrison) during his time in Dallas.

And when it comes to the three most prominent white players for the Mavericks during Cuban’s ownership of the team, no one would argue they didn’t deserve their places on the roster. Steve Nash is in the Hall of Fame, Dirk Nowitzki will be there in the near future and Luka Doncic, at this early stage of his career, looks like he will join them (Nash and Nowitzki arrived shortly before Cuban bought the team but played most of their careers in Dallas with him at the helm).

Some argued that the Mavericks should have picked a black superstar, Trae Young, over Doncic in the 2018 draft but Cuban’s preference for European players has a certain logic. He believes European players, who usually enter the professional ranks at an earlier age, have a better basketball education than American players.

This explains some of the racial balance of the current team: European players are usually white and American players are usually black. And all four of the white players on the Dallas’s active roster this season are European: Doncic (Slovenia), Kristaps Porzingis (Latvia), Maxi Kleber (Germany) and Boban Marjanovic (Serbia). They also have one black European player, Frank Ntilikina (France). European players “actually learn to play the game. If you look at the basketball education of kids starting at 11 years old in Europe and particularly Slovenia which is basketball oriented,” said Cuban in 2019.

While there are valid reasons to push back against that philosophy – after all, the US have won seven of the last eight men’s Olympic tournaments and the other winner was Argentina – it does have coherence, even if it’s wrong.

But the problem with Cuban’s Mavericks isn’t their penchant for white superstars if every white guy they acquired was as good as Nash, Nowitzki and Doncic they’d be perennial champions. No, it’s their seemingly unquenchable thirst for terrible white players that sinks them. Much of the blame can be laid at the door of Donnie Nelson, who was the team’s general manager from 2005 until he left the team in June last year. And since buying the team, Cuban has always blurred the line between superfan and shadow GM. So the excessive signings of terrible white players under his ownership had to be, at least partially, a Cuban call.

Indeed, the Mavs have traded for more white guys as centerpieces of a deal than any other team. The list is long and dreadful: Keith Van Horn, Austin Croshere, Matt Carroll, Rudy Fernandez, Shawn Bradley, Zaza Pachulia, Doug McDermott and JJ Redick. It feels like Cuban, and more specifically Nelson, tried in vain to repeat the magic of Nowitzki. It’s almost like they believed they just needed to get as many white guys in as they could in the hope that one of them would be as sublimely excellent as Nowitzki.

The hit rate has been incredibly low. Doncic is brilliant but was acquired in the draft rather than a trade, while his current teammate, Kristaps Porzingis, is a solid NBA player but probably not worth the two first-round picks the Mavs gave up to acquire him from the Knicks. Guys like Redick were effective in their heyday but way past their prime by the time they headed to Texas.

In 2014 came perhaps Nelson and Cuban’s worst attempt at signing a “star-level” sidekick for Nowitzki when they handed Chandler Parsons, a white player averaging a career-high of 16.6 points per game and four assists per game for the Houston Rockets, a three-year, $46m offer sheet. A deal the Rockets were happy to decline to match.

Parsons’ first season with the Mavs was the definition of mediocrity. He played 66 out of 82 games while averaging 15.7 points. He experienced a dip in almost every significant statistical category, apart from a .01% increase in his three-point shooting.

As ridiculous as the Mavs’ belief in Parsons the player was, it was made worse by their apparent willingness to indulge him off the court. Tim MacMahon, a long-time Mavs reporter, told ESPN’s Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective podcast that: “Parsons had significantly more control over personnel than Donnie Nelson did for two years. That is simply a fact.”

So why have the Mavs had such a long and consistent history offering big contracts to bad white NBA players? There has never been any reason to believe Cuban or any important member of the organization has had any racial bias against non-white players. And while there has been plenty of dysfunction within the organization, none of it has had a racial component. Perhaps the answer lies in marketing.

According to the 2020 US Census, the Dallas population is 62.7% white. Perhaps the organization has wanted to put a product on the floor that looks like the majority of Mavericks fans (as a counterpoint, in 2014 FiveThirtyEight calculated that the Mavericks had more non-white fans than the league average). If so, they would be the only franchise in a predominantly white city that has taken such an approach. In the last 20 years, other majority white NBA cities like Portland (77.4% white), Boston (52.8% white) and Oklahoma City (67.7% white) have never had even one white player as the face of the franchise and they’ve still managed to pack their arenas with fans.

Some may argue that the problem isn’t the players’ race as much as their ability. After all, is watching your team padded out with mediocre white players any worse than watching them padded out with mediocre black players? Maybe not, but in a league that has spent so much time talking up its attempts to raise the black community, a team that consistently appears to be drawn to white players looks out of step. Even if that policy is not deliberate or down to drawing in white fans in a white dominated city. It is also a policy that will end up hurting the most exciting white player in the league – Doncic won’t win a championship with the Mavericks if they fail to give him a good supporting cast.

With the departure of Nelson this summer, Cuban hired a black general manager, Harrison, to replace Nelson. But this off-season, Harrison and Cuban continued the annual tradition of obtaining/retaining a so-so white player when the Mavs re-signed Marjanovic to a new deal. It remains to be seen how much power Harrison will hold within the Mavs front office, or if Cuban, the self-proclaimed “final say,” will keep the status quo that makes the Mavericks look more like a team from 1952 than 2022.

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