Dallas Mavericks begin investigation after misconduct allegations

Mark Cuban Dallas Mavericks
Mark Cuban watches his team warm up before the start of Game 1 of a first-round playoff series in Oklahoma City. –AP Photo/Alonzo Adams

Following a report that a former team president had engaged in “various acts of inappropriate conduct toward women,” the Dallas Mavericks have hired outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation of the alleged acts and of the team’s overall workplace environment.

The announcement by the team came in advance of a detailed Sports Illustrated report on alleged misconduct by the Mavericks’ former president and chief executive, Terdema Ussery. The report also included details of domestic violence allegations against Earl Sneed, a former writer for the team’s official website.

While the team’s statement did not name Ussery or Sneed, the NBA issued its own statement confirming that those two were the people whose behavior was being investigated. Most of the sources in the Sports Illustrated report were anonymous, but it painted a picture of a workplace teeming with problems for female employees, one in which the locker room was a far safer environment than the front office.

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The report also led to the team’s terminating the employment of Buddy Pittman, its human resources director.

Ussery, an Ivy League-educated executive who at one point served as the commissioner of the Continental Basketball Association, was known as a wunderkind whose rapid rise led him to his position with the Mavericks when he was just 38. His tenure with the team began before Mark Cuban purchased the team in 2000, and he held the job for 18 years, during which the team secured funding for a new arena and won an NBA title, in 2011. He resigned in 2015 to take a position with Under Armour, although he held that job for just three months.

According to Sports Illustrated, Ussery had been accused of inappropriate behavior as early as 1998.

In a statement provided to Sports Illustrated, Ussery said he was not aware of any sexual harassment complaints against him. “I am deeply disappointed that anonymous sources have made such outright false and inflammatory accusations against me,” he said in the statement. “During my career with the Mavericks, I have strived to conduct myself with character, integrity and empathy for others.”

Cuban, who is one of the league’s most prominent and most public-facing owners, retweeted the team’s statement and responded to the article in a short interview with Sports Illustrated. The initial report says that none of Ussery’s accusers claim that Cuban contributed to the inappropriate behavior, although some expressed doubts that he was unaware of the issues. Cuban insisted in his interview response that he did not know about any of the issues in the report.

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Sneed, a writer for the team’s website, was reported to have had multiple domestic violence accusations against him, including one instance in which he entered a guilty plea in a case that was dismissed when he met the conditions of the agreement. The Mavericks’ statement said that Sneed had misled the organization about the domestic violence episodes and that he had been terminated.

On Tuesday night, Sneed tweeted that he was leaving the team after seven years but gave no reason for his departure. He subsequently deleted all of his previous tweets, and his account was deactivated.

After the report was published, Sneed issued a statement to The Dallas Morning News saying that, in Sports Illustrated’s article, some of the “language used is not accurate.” He said he had received counseling and claimed that the team was aware of the issues to the point it had altered the terms of his employment.

“I also signed a contract stating that I would not have one-on-one contact or fraternize with female employees after the inaccurately described incident with my female co-worker, who was a live-in girlfriend,” Sneed said in the statement. “I abided by the details of that contract for four years, and received counseling during that period to avoid future instances.”

The NBA, which has shown a willingness to be proactive in cases of inappropriate behavior by team owners and executives, acknowledged in the league’s statement that it had been made aware of the accusations and of the upcoming investigation.

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“This alleged conduct runs counter to the steadfast commitment of the NBA and its teams to foster safe, respectful and welcoming workplaces for all employees,” Mike Bass, the league’s executive vice president for communications, said. “Such behavior is completely unacceptable and we will closely monitor the independent investigation into this matter.”

No timetable was provided, but the Mavericks said in the team’s statement that they would have no further comment until the investigation had been completed.