As the NFL continues to pretend that tanking in football never happens, an NBA owner has admitted — again — that he wants his team to lose now, in order to best position it to win later.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told Dan Patrick last May that “[o]nce we were eliminated from the playoffs, we did everything we could to lose games.” PFT addressed the issue at the time, which clearly isn’t a football story, due to curiosity over how NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would react to such a direct assault to the so-called integrity of the game. Soon, we found out what NBA Commissioner Adam Silver thought of the remarks.
“[I]t’s not what you want to hear as commissioner,” Silver said at the time. “I will say that Mark has a long track record of being provocative, and it was something that we spoke to him directly about. I think he acknowledged it was a poor choice of words. When we looked at what was actually happening on the floor, which is most important to me, there was no indication whatsoever that his players were intentionally losing games. And so we were satisfied with that, and again, and we moved on.”
To cram the comment and response into a different context, it was the equivalent of a bank robber holding up the cash and bragging about the heist and the owner of the bank saying, “That was a poor choice of words. We’ve found no evidence of a bank robbery.”
It now gets better, or maybe worse. Appearing on Julius Erving’s podcast, Cuban admitted that tanking was happening last season, and that it’s still happening now.
“I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night,” Cuban said, via NBCSports.com. “And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, ‘Look, losing is our best option.’ Adam [Silver] would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again. This was a year-and-a-half tanking, and that was too brutal for me. But being transparent, I think that’s the key to being kind of a players owner and having stability.”
So, basically, the bank robber once again is showing off the stacks and boasting. What will the owner of the bank say now?
It’s a fascinating case study for anyone who follows the NFL, because football has an even greater temptation to tank than basketball. With no draft lottery, the path between deliberately losing (typically by instructing the coaching staff to see what younger or lesser players can do in late-season games) and an improved draft position continues to be simple, clear, and easy.
And, frankly, it’s good business. Who cares if a non-playoff team is 7-9, 6-10, 5-11, 4-12, 3-13, or worse? While it’s always a good idea to avoid going 0-16 (or 1-31), the reward for a periodic nightmare can be the kind of player who delivers a decade or more of dreams come true. Look for the NFL to continue to sleepwalk through these obvious late-season scenarios, unless and until an owner admits to tanking — and Goodell can then say, “That’s not what he said.”