The NBA on Wednesday ordered its teams to play the US national anthem before games while Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban downplayed his instructions that kept it from being played at home games so far this season.
The anthem, which has supporters and deriders in a polarized political battle, wasn't played for the first 11 Mavs home games but Cuban said he will follow league instructions and has no problems with playing the song.
Controversy erupted only hours after Cuban confirmed to ESPN he had instructed "The Star-Spangled Banner" not be played before home games, a decision he said he made after consulting NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
The league quickly countermanded that move.
"With NBA teams now in the process of welcoming fans back into their arenas, all teams will play the national anthem in keeping with longstanding league policy," NBA chief communications officer Mike Bass said in a statement Wednesday.
Cuban said the anthem was stopped but conversations with the community were ongoing about its status.
"We've had a lot of conversations about whether or not we should play the anthem, and so during the first pre-season game, we decided to not play it and just see what the response was," Cuban told ESPN.
"We didn't cancel the national anthem... There was never any final decision that was made that we would not play the anthem."
The Mavericks were like most NBA teams and had no spectators for their first 10 home games but 1,500 vaccinated essential workers were given free seats to Monday's game against Minnesota.
After the NBA pulled the plug on his anthem-less contests, Cuban released a statement focused on the issue of people who take issue with the anthem.
"We respect and always have respected the passion people have for the anthem and our country," Cuban said. "But we also loudly hear the voices of those who feel that the anthem does not represent them.
"We feel that their voices need to be respected and heard, because they have not been."
"Going forward, our hope is that people will take the same passion they have for this issue and apply the same amount of energy to listen to those who feel differently from them.
"Only then we can move forward and have courageous conversations that move this country forward and find what unites us."
An NBA rule requires players to stand when the anthem is played but it hasn't been enforced as players have used kneeling during the anthem as a way to protest social and racial injustice, notably during last year's quarantine bubble games after Black Lives Matter protests.
- 'Slap in the face' -
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick introduced the Star-Spangled Banner Protection Act to require the anthem be played at all events receiving public funding.
"It is hard to believe this could happen in Texas, but Mark Cuban's actions made it clear that we must specify that in Texas we play the national anthem before all major events," Patrick said Wednesday.
"In this time when so many things divide us, sports are one thing that bring us together -- right, left, black, white and brown."
Patrick thanked the NBA on Twitter for "slapping down @mcuban's crazy idea to cancel the National Anthem." and told Cuban "Your decision to cancel our National Anthem at @dallasmavs games is a slap in the face to every American & an embarrassment to Texas.
"Sell the franchise & some Texas Patriots will buy it. We ARE the land of free & the home of the brave."
Even the NHL's Dallas Stars, who share American Airlines Arena with the Mavericks, dug in their spurs, tweeting, "The playing of the national anthem is a time-honored tradition and the Dallas Stars will continue to perform 'The Star-Spangled Banner' prior to our games."
Few NBA teams have welcomed back fans due to the Covid-19 pandemic and then only in reduced capacity socially distanced settings. Up to 13 teams will be able to have fans at games by the end of the month.