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DALLAS — 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.
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 NBA 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 anthem 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.
Cuban, who had said the team didn’t intend to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the future, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment after the NBA’s announcement. However, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that Cuban has told the NBA he will comply. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the details had not been publicly disclosed.
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, 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.”
AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed.