DALLAS -- Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had every right to be enraged at the league for not scheduling the 2010-11 NBA champions to play in Washington this season so they could make the traditional trip to the White House.
Instead, the league managed to schedule the Washington Wizards to play in Dallas on March 13. Cuban said he took matters into his own hands and had club CEO Terdeema Ussery call the White House and try to work out a visit. The White House, Cuban said, was receptive and the Mavs will visit President Barack Obama on Monday before a two-game road trip to Detroit and Boston.
The league, however, tells a bit of a different story about how Monday's visit came to be arranged. Tim Frank, the NBA's senior vice president for basketball communications, said the league learned of the president's availability and worked with the Mavs to make it happen.
"Our jurisdiction doesn't extend to scheduling the president, and scheduling the Mavericks against the Wizards would have been no guarantee that the president would be in town and available," Frank said. "We learned that he would be available on Jan. 9 and began working with the Mavericks to accommodate that availability and the Mavericks' schedule. Fortunately, we were able to make it work."
Teams typically work in visits to the White House around playing in the area, so without a scheduled game in D.C., the Mavs were faced with missing out on one of the great traditions in American sport and one that dates back more than 100 years, according to some historians. Cuban on Monday night called the league "stupid" for not making this happen and, frankly, it's a trip the team needs to make for several reasons.
First is just the thrill of going to the White House and meeting the president, something few Americans ever get the opportunity to do. Then there's the fact that the NBA is a league predominantly made up of African-American players and a growing number of head coaches. When Obama, this country's first African-American president and an unabashed basketball fan, was elected, politics became a rare but proud topic in NBA locker rooms.
"My grandmother was born in 1923 in Georgia. It means a lot," said Lamar Odom, who has visited the White House twice after titles won with the Los Angles Lakers. "It's was pretty deep emotionally. It's not just having someone in that position, but having someone that's qualified and that the people picked. That means a lot to people who have had a lot of history in this country. It was emotional for my whole family to see that."
Whatever arena or other scheduling conflicts were involved in devising the compacted, 66-game schedule, Cuban argues that surely the league could have facilitated the game in D.C. Because of 16 fewer games being played due to the lockout, teams will not visit all of the other 29 NBA cities.
The nine remaining Mavs from the title team all won their first championship and expressed appreciation that they will visit the White House after all.
"It's going to be a great honor to meet the chief and maybe we'll even have a little time to play some one-on-one," guard Jason Kidd said. "We know he's going to get the benefit of the calls, and he has homecourt advantage. We'll just try to keep it close."
Jason Terry, who visited the White House more than a decade ago with the NCAA champion Arizona Wildcats, said he's looking forward to meeting "the first black president" and added that the trip is a "tribute to what we were able to accomplish. It's definitely going to be fun."
The Mavs' 7-foot German national, Dirk Nowitzki, might have summed it up the best, saying the Mavs deserve this rite of passage long granted to all champions.
"It's a huge honor and we didn't know if it was going to happen or not this season because we don't go to Washington at all, so we were disappointed initially, but it's very exciting," Nowitzki said. "Every championship team gets to go there and meet the president, so we're fired up about that. Hopefully, have a couple good games here until then and then really enjoy that day. We deserve it and it's going to be a great experience."