News of the NBA’s outside investigation’s findings into workplace harassment within the Dallas Mavericks’ organization, which date back to a Sports Illustrated story from February, broke a little before noon eastern Wednesday. The results of the investigation were made public a few hours later; they’re available through a tweet from ESPN The Jump host Rachel Nichols below. That tweet came before Nichols’ show, which covered this extensively, including with an in-depth interview with Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban. But we’ll get to that. First, the report and the summary:
The NBA has released it's full investigation into the toxic workplace culture at the Dallas Mavericks – you can read it here: https://t.co/ObdshDjB5O
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) September 19, 2018
The NBA issued a long statement regarding a report by independent investigators regarding workplace conditions at the Dallas Mavericks, following allegations made in a Feb. 20, 2018 Sports Illustrated article.
Here are some of the findings: pic.twitter.com/fMfATHXy7U
— Liz Mullen (@SBJLizMullen) September 19, 2018
With scandals rampant across the NFL and college football, the NBA seemingly knew were going to take their turn getting pummeled by fans and the media. But what actually transpired is something I think warrants some attention. Within an hour of the report being made public, Cuban was going to be on ESPN speaking about the scandal.
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) September 19, 2018
I was tuned to ESPN by chance, as I often have a movie I’m familiar with in the background while I work during this portion of the day. Despite being just a casual NBA fan, I’ve often found myself on ESPN when The Jump starts up and find it hard to turn away despite having nominal interest in the topics and news being covered. That’s 100% due to Rachel Nichols and the rest of the analysts, as it’s just a much more palatable show then, let’s say, a NFL counterpart, where injury news and roster moves seemingly take up the bulk of the show. The Jump just has a lot more substance and more of an engaging flow than a lot of sport specific programming you find on ESPN or other networks.
I had no idea Cuban was going to be on but Nichols started the program giving a thorough summary of the findings before going to break with the Cuban interview to come. Knowing Nichols and Cuban, this was going to be interesting and I had high expectations. What unfolded was one of the most telling, interesting, and thorough interviews I’ve seen on ESPN. I’m not alone in that assessment.
Yo, @Rachel__Nichols interviewing Mark Cuban on The Jump right now is a TV journalism clinic
— Pablo S. Torre (@PabloTorre) September 19, 2018
wasn’t sure how long Cuban was gonna be on, but that was about as thorough as it gets. It was perfect.
— Tim Ryan (@TheSportsHernia) September 19, 2018
One thing that jumps out while watching @Rachel__Nichols interview Mark Cuban right now is how effective it can be to literally read/quote from an investigative report — to see that person's reactions. Very telling.
— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) September 19, 2018
.@Rachel__Nichols is reading the worst portions of the report to Cuban, pressing him for reactions. She's doing a wonderful job.
— Mavs Moneyball (@mavsmoneyball) September 19, 2018
.@Rachel__Nichols is doing an excellent job with this Mark Cuban Interview. There’s no where for him to hide from blatant callousness when it came to protecting the women who worked for him from the predators he enabled & failed to fire. He just didn’t take their pain seriously
— Annie Apple (@SurvivinAmerica) September 19, 2018
Not that we needed any more proof of this, but incredible job by @Rachel__Nichols today with this interview with Mark Cuban today.
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) September 19, 2018
You get it at this point. Clips of this are available below. But what was so special about it beyond what you see in the tweets?
It was insanely thorough
I think the thing that stood out the most was that this wasn’t aimed to be a PR-motivated drive-by interview and apology. Cuban got grilled for more than half an hour and to his credit, he didn’t lose his cool and was apologetic and forthright for the most part. The questions were fair, and when he did try to weasel out of a tough answer, Nichols would follow up immediately. We don’t see enough of that on both fronts, with these type of interviews either being too short or reporters just not following up on answers that don’t pass the smell test
Nichols was fair, composed, and unbeholding to any agenda
Here is the deal. Owners, coachers, and star players can often stack the deck in terms of the interview terms they accept when they’re against the ropes. People want an exclusive and will bend their journalistic integrity at times to get it. Maybe it comes in the form of a few extra softball questions, or just a friendlier tone than one deserves during a controversy, or just a lack of follow-up questions when answers to a fair question are evaded.
On the flip side, you can often get interviewers who are looking to rankle the interviewee and score points with viewers with a certain viewpoint on a particular issue or scandal. This basically can mirror a prosecuting lawyer adding just enough attitude and combativeness to draw a outburst from a witness or just play to a jury’s bias. We often laud these type of interviews as being “tough”, but while often they are, they’re not exactly fair either.
If I want to watch or read an editorial about someone being shitty, there are tons of outlets for that (USA Today‘s Dan Wolken may be somewhat the current champ here). But when given access to someone mired in a scandal, I want to extract as much info as possible from whatever access they grant and avoid the pitfalls of hollow apologies and fleet-of-foot changing of the subject.
Nichols was tough on Cuban. He deserved it. But she was fair throughout. When Cuban was sincere with an explanation or an apology, she moved on and hit another question. When he evaded, she was polite in pointing out the issue with Cuban’s answer. She gave him no easy outs nor any reason to indignantly exit the interview. He was boxed in through out. That’s a very tight rope to walk for many journalists, and Nichols gracefully tightroped it for half an hour.
The structure of the full hour was well planned
The show opened with Nichols going through the findings. She then had Cuban on for about 30 minutes before continuing by bringing on the Maverick’s new CEO to join her and Cuban and she also wasn’t shy in throwing shade towards Cuban and the old guard. The show closed with about ten minutes of commentary from Nichols and two ESPN NBA personalities (Zach Lowe and Tim MacMahon).
I came away with my fill of perspective and insights into the scandal and I don’t think that could have been done without The Jump checking all of the boxes between segments on the findings themselves, a longform Cuban interview, a look at the team’s new leadership, and analysis from outside voices. While this doesn’t seem like a revolutionary approach, I only say this because networks and shows regularly flub this. They’ll have access to someone in the news for the wrong reasons. He or she will say some things of interest, but the audience might not have the full context of the scandal to start, and then nobody will actually analyze the substance of what was said. It’s basically just an exciting thing to fill 15 minutes on a four-hour radio show.
Okay, but why is this good for Cuban, the NBA, and the Mavericks?
So the reason I’m writing this is A) Rachel Nichols fucking killed it and I just want to point that out because I feel like she can often go unnoticed if you’re not a NBA fan. B) Beyond ESPN and Nichols, the NBA, Cuban, and the Mavericks kind of cracked the code on how to handle a scandal. Stay with me here…..
I’m an Ohio State alumni and my god, if I have to deal with another flailing Urban Meyer interview, I’m going to pull my hair out (I started a thread on this subject below)
Meyer and OSU needs to realize he’s a liability with the media. That’s how it snowballed (media day). He’s continued to flub the same basic things and keeps giving the story air to breathe naively thinking his emotionless robotic half apology will win people over. Not happening.
— Ben Koo (@bkoo) September 17, 2018
And it’s not just Urban Meyer and Ohio State. Michigan State, Penn State, Baylor, Maryland, etc have all been mired with ongoing scandals in which they’ve never been able to get the media to turn the page and move on. The NFL is just basically a year round controversy centered around kneeling for the anthem, deflating footballs, domestic violence, and shitty rules surrounding catches and roughing the quarterback.
Cuban’s appearance on The Jump was obviously coordinated with the team and league to follow the release of the findings. Rather than put out some hollow statement or give a fluffy interview, Cuban, the new Mavericks’ leadership, and the league decided to take a heavy dose of licks right out of the gate and hopefully the story wouldn’t have much more air to breathe and escalate. Let’s call it a self contained fire.
And after a full hour of watching Rachel Nichols drill down into the whole scandal and skillfully outflank any attempts to skirt responsibility, I’m more or less done with the scandal.
I get what happened. I know who is responsible. I know who enabled those responsible. I believe Cuban and the Mavericks are genuinely sorry and have been shamed for their mistakes. Cuban had his ass handed to him on national TV by an unrelenting Nichols. They’ve made changes. I’m sold by the changes made. They’ll continue to wear the shame of what happened. I’m ready to move on and that’s an absolutely HUGE victory for all involved as it’s damn near impossible to close the book on a scandal and have the news cycle move on for good.
Sure, this story will continue to generate headlines but I think for the most part the NBA, Mavericks, and Cuban looked themselves in the mirror and knew they’d get a fair, throrough, and stern treatment from Nichols. She killed it, and barring anything unforeseen, I’m not really sure how much more juice there is to squeeze with this story. I can only hope other leagues, teams, owners, coaches, players, and schools take notice that your main goal when dealing with a scandal is to put it behind you rather than suffer an endless stream of mini scandals that trickle out over time. (Again, Ohio State, still in the news today, now over AD Gene Smith’s text deletion and the probe’s non-attempt to restore deleted texts.) There are no shortcuts to avoid scorn and ridicule and attempting to create one almost always makes it that much worse.
Today was a very bad day for Mark Cuban, the Mavericks, and the NBA. But the reality is that it’s very possible that the stink from this won’t linger for weeks, months, and years to come. In today’s media climate, that’s kind of a miracle.