The NBA national anthem controversy, explained

Owner of Dallas Mavericks also criticised prominent senators on Twitter
Owner of Dallas Mavericks also criticised prominent senators on Twitter

A pregame national anthem is very uncommon in most countries, but is a prominent ritual of American sports.

The regular nationalistic performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" calls to mind the Pledge of Allegiance, for example, and is a part of conservative American “patriotic” identity.

The attitude towards the song was put on display over the past few days as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s decided not to play America’s national anthem before home basketball games, which in turn caused something of an uproar.

Here’s the latest national anthem controversy, explained:

Cuban, an American billionaire entrepreneur, owns the Mavericks – who on Monday had a limited number of fans in their arena for the first time this season because of the pandemic.

It was eventually reported that the team had not played the national anthem at any of their home games this season – although it took months for anyone to notice.

This apparently caused a stir, as the National Basketball Association put out a statement on Wednesday requiring that all teams play the anthem before the start of games.

“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,” Mike Bass, the NBA’s chief communications officer, said in a statement.

Cuban responded:

“I have always stood for the anthem with the hand over my heart – no matter where I hear it played.”

He added:

But we also hear the voices of those who do not feel the anthem represents them. We feel they also need to be respected and heard, because they have not been heard.The hope is that those who feel passionate about the anthem being played will be just as passionate in listening to those who do not feel it represents them.

Cuban here seems to be referencing Colin Kaepernick and his sparking of a national debate after he protested racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem in 2016. This continued across American sports, and around the world, after the killing of George Floyd last year.

(The NBA’s rules have required players to stand during the anthem, NBC Sports reported. However, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has not enforced that rule in recent years).

Cuban has changed his tune on his position of kneeling in recent years and even fought with senator Ted Cruz about the issue last year.

But when it comes to the NBA playing the anthem, right wingers took it as an opportunity to condemn Cuban and “anti-Americanism”.

When it came to light that the Mavericks had not been playing the anthem at the opening of their games, right wing media and personalities came out in droves, insulted and aggrieved.

On a Fox News morning program, former Wisconsin congressman Sean Duffy said: “Let’s be clear: Mark Cuban is a globalist, he’s not a patriot … This is bad for America and this is great for China.” Despite trying to "be clear", this makes very little sense. The Republican lieutenant governor of Texas called Cuban’s decision a “slap in the face to every American”. Many other conservatives weighed in with similar opinions.

The anthem remains a hot button issue in the American "culture wars", although this time around it seemed Democrats and those on the left wing did not even take notice of this issue because it’s so minor.

But perhaps right-wing personalities had another reason to feign shock and anger? Some conservative news channels, for example, chose to cover this NBA spat rather than the explosive new footage of the Capitol riots that were revealed at the impeachment proceeding. What a coincidence.

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