The N.B.A. is again requiring teams to play the national anthem before games, after the Dallas Mavericks had stopped playing the anthem through their first 13 preseason and regular-season home games.
“With N.B.A. 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, an N.B.A. spokesman, said Wednesday.
The league office abruptly changed its stance on the matter after giving Mark Cuban, the Mavericks’ franchise owner, permission going into the season to stop playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before home games. All but 11 of the N.B.A.’s 30 teams are still playing home games without fans because of the coronavirus pandemic. On Tuesday, the league had said that teams were permitted “to run their pregame operations as they see fit” because of “the unique circumstances of this season.”
The Mavericks, at Cuban’s insistence, seized on that latitude to break from a longstanding tradition in American sports and remove the anthem from their pregame program. The change went largely unnoticed until an article by The Athletic called attention to it after the team’s first game with fans in attendance, which was on Monday night. Dallas gave 1,500 free tickets to frontline workers who had received at least the first of two required shots of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Cuban told The New York Times on Wednesday that the Mavericks would follow the policy immediately and play the anthem before that night’s nationally televised home game against the Atlanta Hawks at American Airlines Center.
“We are good with it,” Cuban said.
Most players and coaches regularly knelt during the national anthem to protest social injustice while the league played out the last three months of the 2019-20 season at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., last summer. Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner, said in December that the league did not intend to enforce its rule that players stand for the national anthem. The league’s 29 teams apart from Dallas had mostly played recorded versions of the anthem before games.
“I recognize that this is a very emotional issue on both sides of the equation in America right now, and I think it calls for real engagement rather than rule enforcement,” Silver said in December.
In a statement released through the Mavericks, Cuban said: “We respect and always have respected the passion people have for the anthem and our country. 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.”
Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, on Wednesday called for Cuban to sell the franchise to “some Texas patriots” and said that the Mavericks’ decision not to play the anthem was “a slap in the face to every American” and “an embarrassment to Texas.” Cuban has also sparred publicly with Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, who has been critical of Cuban’s support of N.B.A. players’ kneeling during the anthem.
The Mavericks never announced the policy to stop playing the anthem but quietly let visiting teams know on game days that their players could expect to proceed straight to the introductions of starting lineups.
New Orleans Pelicans Coach Stan Van Gundy expressed support on social media for the Mavericks’ original decision to forgo playing the anthem.
“This should happen everywhere,” Van Gundy posted on Twitter before the league said the anthem would again be required. “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?”
For 16 years when Donald Carter owned the Mavericks, singers performed “God Bless America” before home games at the old Reunion Arena. The Mavericks began playing the national anthem after the team was purchased by Ross Perot Jr. on May 1, 1996. Cuban bought the Mavericks in January 2000.