Updated: August 7, 5:10 PM ET
Scaring the outspoken into silence
By Adrian Wojnarowski
Special to ESPN.com
The reaction was so painfully predictable, these pompous and protective housemen for the NBA telling Mark Cuban to stand on the sidelines, shut his mouth and cling to the company line. Everyone probes and prays for that provocative line, an original thought and when it comes, it, what happens now?
They vanquish the voice.
The way the Thought Police jumped Cuban was a complete disgrace Tuesday, one more reason why the sporting culture is doomed to eternity with the mindless and milquetoast clichés of the morons and scared deer that inhabit it. Because the thoughtful figures, the ones with the courage of conviction, will soon be completely shouted into silence. Why open your mouth, say something completely plausible and not be told that someone disagrees with you, but you shouldn't say it at all?
Why bother anymore?
Before long, no one will talk. No one with something to say, anyway. No one will say a damn thing without fear of getting scared back into silence. Cuban has it in his DNA to still speak his mind, but even he was taken aback over the ferocity of the factions telling him his take on Kobe Bryant didn't deserve the light of day. Everyone else will watch, learn the lesson and make sure public debate of issues stays to the surface, to the minimum.
Feel free to disagree with Cuban's take. But you don't believe there will be incredible interest in watching Bryant play basketball under the cloud of felony sexual assault charges? There won't be larger television audiences to watch Bryant play for the Lakers? There won't be a greater surge of "train wreck" intrigue with the saga?
This was an opinion, an item for discussion.
Ever heard of it?
Yet to insist Cuban can't talk this way or can't raise the issue is a complete joke. Nobody should be surprised David Stern wants Cuban to shut up. He always wants him to shut up. If Cuban is willing to pay the fine, let him pay it. Nobody else needs to play commissioner for Stern. Nobody else needs to be his water boy out there. Let Cuban talk. For goodness sakes, let them all talk.
Yes, Cuban loves the attention. He loves the limelight. So what? He's a great owner. He cares about winning. He cares about his fans and about the experiences they have buying tickets to his basketball games. Most of the owners in the NBA never interact with the paying public and are so determined to stay under the luxury tax threshold they won't spend to win.
Cuban is the best of sports ownership, understanding that it's about entertainment and winning. And he's right: Everyone will watch that Mavericks-Lakers game on opening night. Everyone. Still, this has nothing to do with the greater image of the game, the long-term pain promising to pound the NBA for the misdeeds of one of its greatest stars.
Cuban never said the sexual assault was great for the NBA. Never. He said it would make money in the short-term and he's absolutely right. If you studied the complete context of his words to Chris Sheridan of the Associated Press and Pat O'Brien on Access Hollywood, it would be clear that he separated the moral and practical differences on this issue.
"It was amazing to listen to talk shows rip me because I used the word great," Cuban said. "If everything we say is going to be scrutinized word by word, with each word having its own independent meaning regardless of context, we all are in trouble.
"No one can withstand that level of scrutiny."
I hated to hear what Vijay Singh said about Annika Sorenstam, ripping her inclusion in the Colonial last June. Know what, though? He had the guts to attach his name to it. What a lot of male golfers whispered in the corners of the clubhouses, he spoke up and said for the record. He would've won a lot of respect for showing up at the Colonial, but bailed on it. Still, it was hard to blame him. Everyone screamed so loud, they scared him back into his driving-range slumber. Before this, he never talked. And he'll never talk again now.
Byron Scott always talked. Always. He talked about his team and about the NBA and he was beautifully honest. He had earned the right. He was a three-time champion in the NBA, a model citizen for the Lakers, and now, a winning coach for the New Jersey Nets. He had earned his credibility to take on Latrell Sprewell, responding to a question that he would never want Spree on his team. He didn't just speak for himself, but a lot of coaches in basketball.
He found out fast, too: Speak out with a conscience in this business and get screamed back to silence. Scott never should've started telling people his comments were "out of context," because the context was crystal clear: A man with an exemplary basketball life called out a con artist.
Why did Scott's truth-telling on Sprewell turn into a New York soap opera over weeks in the regular season? Because no one ever talks this way. Nobody risks getting ripped. Nobody speaks his mind. Because the modern culture of pro sports is to let bad acts go unaccounted, let unprofessionalism parade past without a word, let the game deteriorate into a playground for the malcontents and head cases as the credible caretakers stand to the side in silence, muttering to themselves what they ought to be saying out loud.
Scott had never skipped a training camp on a coast-to-coast drive and was never accused of breaking his hand throwing a punch on a yacht. And as much as Scott wanted to do sometimes, he never grabbed Pat Riley's throat and reduced his sport to a global disgrace. On some level, Scott has a responsibility, him and a lot of coaches and veteran players in this league, to tell the truth on the truant.
"I'll never talk about another player like that again," Scott told me. Which is a shame. He's earned the right. Somehow, he turned into the bad guy for calling Spree out.
The Thought Police will probably never get to Mark Cuban, but they'll make it to the ones watching him on Tuesday and make clear the consequences awaiting them: Step right up, speak your mind and get shouted down, too.
"Certainly not a set of circumstances that encourages honest give and take," Cuban said.
Adrian Wojnarowski, who's a columnist for The Record of Bergen County, N.J., is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj@aol.com.