The Mavs are going MAGA.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is selling a majority stake in his franchise to the family of conservative mega-donor Miriam Adelson, according to reports Tuesday.
The move gives the Adelson family, whose fortune was largely amassed by late casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a toehold in the world of professional sports. And they’re latching on to the NBA at a time when sports teams are increasingly the playthings — if not the political tools — of the richest of the rich.
As The Washington Post noted in its report on the sale:
NBA franchise values have skyrocketed over the past decade, and the agreement between Cuban and the Adelson family follows several other recent transactions. Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam agreed to purchase a stake in the Milwaukee Bucks in April. NBA legend Michael Jordan agreed to sell a majority stake of the Charlotte Hornets to (investment firm managers) Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin in June. In July, the Qatar Investment Authority acquired a 5 percent stake of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the ownership group that oversees the Washington Wizards, the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and the NHL’s Washington Capitals.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has been used to pump money into — and wield influence over — sports leagues like the Professional Golf Association and Formula 1 Racing, earning accusations that the Saudi royal family is engaging in sportswashing, or using sports as a PR tool to launder its reputation in other arenas (like, for example, politics and human rights).
At any rate, the Mavs sale, which is likely to top several billion dollars, showcases the extreme wealth required even to enter the market for franchise team ownership (which hasn’t always been the case). And the rich in this case could easily get richer from this deal: CNBC reports Adelson could use the Mavericks to expand her family's gambling empire into Texas.
While the Adelson family certainly won’t be the first or only MAGA-friendly team owner in the NBA (Trump’s former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ brother-in-law owns the Orlando Magic), I do wonder how she could also use the team to further other, more political goals.
Other than perhaps the Koch family, few names have been more synonymous with right-wing activism than the Adelsons in the last few decades. The couple was widely known as a benefactor of conservative causes and was Trump’s biggest political backer in 2020. It’s easy to see how their ultraconservative worldview would run counter to a league consisting largely of young, Black men — some of whom see themselves as modern-day freedom fighters. (By way of example, back in 2020, the WNBA's Atlanta Dream made things pretty uncomfortable for Kelly Loeffler, who was the franchise owner and GOP senator from Georgia, after she opposed the league’s support for Black Lives Matter.)
So it’s noteworthy to me that despite the sale, Cuban will reportedly maintain control over the Mav's basketball operations. Keeping Cuban could provide a buffer between the Adelsons and a team full of players who may disagree with the family's politics.
The best-case scenario for their ownership is that they fade into the background after the sale goes through. Hopefully they’re the type of owners who sign the checks and chill in their skybox, rather than the type to use sports to advance their political causes. If the latter is the case, I'm betting the culture wars start playing out on the basketball court again in short order.