Everything we thought we knew about Mark Cuban has changed, even as the reputation of Mark Cuban is still in tact. He is still a billonaire owner of a basketball team, an effervescent participant on the sidelines of games. He still is the driving energy behind the television show Shark Tank and a model for business people the world over on how to translate emotion and creativity into something sustainable. But what has changed about Cuban is our perception of his character. John Wooden correctly noted that your reputation is what people think you are. Your character is who you really are.
Two months ago, thinking of Mark Cuban as anything other than an accomplished, ambitious and transparent owner would have been a mistake. We were loyal to him more than we were real about him. Opinionated, Cuban entered public life both modern and traditional, the risk taker archetype. In an often cold world and ruthless sport of which owners are dull and often reticent, cloaked in their money, eager to be the them as opposed to the us, Cuban exuded freshness and passion. He tilted on its axis the boys club. As proof of his difference, Cuban did something NBA owners just don’t do, he gave out his e-mail address so fans could contact him and vent, offer up trades, whine, complain, rejoice. Everything about Mark Cuban was promotional.
He was young and hip and a non-conformist and intelligent and a bar guy in a t-shirt and jeans. He looked like a college kid at home during summer break. The illusion was seductive. He’s who you would want at your bachelor party, or celebration at the club after the raise just came through, or languidly chilling around the pool on a Saturday. He’s who you’d thought you’d be if you were 25 and a billionaire. But alas, in a chickens come home to roost way, the interpertation of Cuban, his behavior and the accusations, has shifted his fun loving narrative, so much so, it’s hard to sift through all the things being said and come to an agreement on who Mark Cuban is.
Is he cruel? Is he guilty of sexual violence? Is he selfish, a narcissist? Is he an enabler of sexual predators? Or, a businessman who looks the other way while his employees run amok? Is he uninvolved in front office culture because the television show Shark Tank and the Mavs basketball play consume him? Does he hate women? Does he think that a woman asking him for a photo is her asking him to put his fingers in her vagina? Does he think drunkeness absolves him?
Although no man can be considered an outlier to the #MeToo harrasser club, Cuban seemed an unusual name to be attached to sexual violence, only because we ascribe decency to those who are very successful and very white, forgetting that most people are not what they seem. There is the hidden self.
But reputation and character. Reputation and character. The Mavericks Team President, Human Resources Head and blog writer were accused of sexual harassment, lewdness, and violence towards women over a period of years with Cuban apathetic and in his words, “unaware” his organizaton eroticized misogyny. It wasn’t the image Mark Cuban has always projected of a new kind of owner. He was complicit in the morbid behavior because he runs the damn thing.
But when the scandal broke, Mark Cuban spent a lot of time putting the sexual dysfunction of his front office in fix it mode by doing the usual things crises management people advise. Take responsibility. Apologize. Say you will atone. Shake up the culture. Repeat how sorry you are over and over. Cuban took the punch to the chin and waded his way through the explosive waters. If it was false humility, it didn’t matter. He was saying something.
And then Mark Cuban himself was hit with an allegation that he sexually harrassed a woman he met in a bar who asked for his photo. She said he did something sexually invasive [and violent] to her without her consent. There was a police investigation but the police didn’t have enough evidence to move forward, a pretty common occurrence in sexual violence reports. Cuban claimed his innocence. The victim said he was lying, she was sexually violated. Cuban said she was lying, it didn’t happen. And the truth is buried somewhere in the middle of no, yes and not enough evidence. Cuban was drunk. She was drinking.
To be accused of sexual violence is a dark day for any human being but for Mark Cuban who fetishizes his ordinary guy with a billion dollars in the bank image, it has affected the perception of him. One accusation is a mistake, and is forgivable. It is Cuban being occupied. But a sexual assault charge following an accusation of misogyny and apathy points to a pattern of behavior. It says something significant about Mark Cuban’s character and what he thinks about women.
Nevertheless, Mark Cuban has the privilege of whiteness and wealth. In the Oregon sexual assault matter, it was reported that Cuban, during the investigation process, “engaged in a freewheeling discussion of the topic over the phone. Eventually the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office determined there was insufficient evidence to press criminal charges.” Kobe tried that too. Talked to the Eagle County authorities without lawyers but he lacked the privilege of whiteness and was arrested.
But here’s the real truth. If black man Kobe Bryant can win an Oscar 15 years after being accused of sexual assault, then Mark Cuban can call his accuser a liar and his life will continue without much of a hitch.
But his reputation which was clean two months ago? It isn’t anymore.