Mark Cuban

The NBA said Wednesday the national anthem will be played in arenas “in keeping with longstanding league policy” after Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban revealed he had decided not to play it before his team’s home games this season. Richard Shotwell/Invision/Associated Press, file

DALLAS — Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban relented Wednesday and the national anthem will be played before home games this season after the NBA reiterated its “longstanding league policy” to include the song.

The league’s initial reaction to Cuban’s decision was to say teams were free to conduct pregame activities as they wished with the unusual circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic. Most teams don’t have fans at home games.

But the NBA abruptly reversed course with Cuban’s decision reverberating around the country, including a question put to White House press secretary Jen Psaki during her daily briefing. Athlete protests of social and racial injustice during the “The Star-Spangled Banner” became a flashpoint between then-President Donald Trump and various leagues during his administration.

“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,” the league said.

The Mavericks said they would play the anthem starting Wednesday night against Atlanta while releasing a statement from Cuban.

“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.

“Our hope is that going forward 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,” he said. “Then we can move forward and have courageous conversations that move this country forward and find what unites us.”

The Mavericks played their first 10 regular-season games without fans before allowing 1,500 vaccinated essential workers to attend Monday’s game against Minnesota for free.

Cuban at that point declined to elaborate on his decision to not play the anthem, other than to say nobody noticed until after 11 regular-season home games.

The move wasn’t without support among NBA coaches.

“This should happen everywhere,” New Orleans Coach Stan Van Gundy tweeted Wednesday. “If you think the anthem needs to be played before sporting events, then play it before every movie, concert, church service and the start of every work day at every business. What good reason is there to play the anthem before a game?”

The question Van Gundy raises has been debated for some time.

The NBA rule book does not specifically say that the anthem – or anthems, in games involving the Toronto Raptors, the lone Canadian team in the league – must be played before games. The only rule regarding the songs states this: “Players, coaches and trainers must stand and line up in a dignified posture along the foul lines during the playing of the American and/or Canadian national anthems.”

That rule was relaxed last year in the NBA’s restart bubble at Walt Disney World, when the league took no objection to players kneeling for the anthem to show their desire for an end to racial injustice and police brutality.

Players were criticized for kneeling; some of those who stood, such as Miami’s Meyers Leonard and Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac, also faced backlash on social media for choosing to stand. San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich, a graduate of the Air Force Academy and coach of the U.S. men’s national team, also stood for anthems in the bubble.

It’s not uncommon for some players to simply not be on the floor for the anthem, exiting for the locker room shortly before the end of the warm-up period for various reasons such as bathroom breaks before returning when starting lineups are introduced.

Though intended to be a solemn hymn, it’s almost never treated as such – fans in many arenas routinely shout over the final lines, break into applause before the song is complete and often insert their own touches into the song such as NHL fans in St. Louis chanting “Blues” over the anthem’s actual last word, “brave.”

Psaki said she had not spoken to President Joe Biden about the issue.

“I know he’s incredibly proud to be an American and has great respect for the anthem and all that it represents,” Psaki said. “He’d also say, of course, that part of pride in our country means recognizing where we as a country haven’t lived up to our highest ideals.”

Backlash to ending the anthem was swift in the Texas Capitol, where Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick urged Cuban to “sell the franchise & some Texas Patriots will buy it.” Other GOP lawmakers suggested the tax breaks the American Airlines Center receives should come under new scrutiny.

PISTONS: The Detroit Pistons said center Jahlil Okafor had left knee surgery and is expected to miss 6 to 8 weeks.

The team said the procedure was to clean the lateral meniscus.

The Pistons acquired Okafor this past offseason, and he averaged 4.3 points and 10 minutes in his first 12 games.

Okafor hasn’t played since a Jan. 30 loss at Golden State.

VIRUS: The NBA said one player tested positive for coronavirus in the past week, meaning only two have gotten that diagnosis in the last three weeks.

The total for the season in the NBA is up to 92, but of those, 48 – or 52% – tested positive in November, before training camps officially opened. The NBA reported one positive test for the weekly period ending Jan. 26, and no positive tests for the period ending Feb. 3.

Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns – who has missed 13 games – tested positive last month and his recovery is complete. The Timberwolves had Towns back in the starting lineup Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Towns made the decision after going through a pregame workout to evaluate his readiness.

“Underlying conditions and Covid don’t mix well,” Towns tweeted on Wednesday. Towns has lost seven relatives to COVID-19, including his mother.

The NBA does not reveal which players test positive for COVID-19, but Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton said earlier this week that Bucks guard Jrue Holiday tested positive for the virus. That would make Holiday the one player in the NBA’s Wednesday announcement.

Holiday is listed on the Bucks’ injury report for a virus-related issue, but those do not specify whether a player has tested positive or has been ordered to sit out because contact tracing found potential of exposure to another COVID-19 positive person.

“This is nothing to play around with and once he tested positive, you immediately think about his health, his safety and his family back home,” Middleton said. “He has little kids, too, that he has to worry about.”

WEDNESDAY’S GAMES

NETS 104, PACERS 94: Kyrie Irving had 35 points and eight assists and host Brooklyn was defensively dominant in the first half in shutting down Indiana to snap a three-game losing streak.

A night after an embarrassing effort in Detroit, when the Nets yielded 38 points in the first quarter, the Pacers didn’t reach that total until 8:46 remained in the third.

By then, the Nets had built a 32-point halftime lead, their largest since moving to Brooklyn in 2012, and with a 62-30 bulge allowed just two more points than their best total since moving from New Jersey.

Irving was 17 for 17 from the free-throw line, career highs in both categories, and Brooklyn led by as many as 36 points.

MAVERICKS 118, HAWKS 117: Luka Doncic had 28 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds as Dallas won at home.

The Mavericks kept the ball out of Trae Young’s hands on an inbound play with 4.7 seconds remaining, and Danilo Gallinari’s jumper just before the buzzer was short.

RAPTORS 137, WIZARDS 115: Norman Powell scored 28 points, Pascal Siakam added 26 and visiting Toronto made 19 3-pointers to beat Washington.

Seven Raptors hit at least one 3-pointer, with Kyle Lowry leading the way with 5-for-9 shooting from deep. He finished with 21 points. Toronto shot 59% from long range (19 for 32).

GRIZZLIES 130, HORNETS 114: Kyle Anderson hit a career-high six 3 of a franchise-record 23 3-pointers and scored 27 points to help host Memphis snap a four-game losing streak.

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