Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban reacts during a timeout in the game against the Golden State Warriors at American Airlines Center
Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images

Dallas Mavericks Protest: Why Mark Cuban and the Mavs are Upset with NBA Officials

The Golden State Warriors defeated the Dallas Mavericks 127-125 last night in a crucial game for two teams battling for playoff positions and hoping to climb out of the play-in standings and into the top 6 in the Western Conference standings.

If Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has his way, however, that result will not stand. Cuban and the Mavs have indicated an intention to protest the game after confusion about a referee's call paved the way for a strange moment and a free Golden State hoop.

Confusion After Ref Signals Possession, Then Timeout

With 1:56 remaining in the third quarter, a loose ball rebound was awarded to the Golden State Warriors, as indicated by official Anthony Nagy, who was under the basket on the Golden State offensive end of the court. However, Nagy, after pointing towards the basket to indicate Warriors ball, then immediately pointed the other way to signal a Mavericks timeout. If you weren't paying close attention, you might have thought that Nagy was either changing his call, or you might have missed the initial point in the direction of the Warriors.

When the teams came back out on the court from the timeout, the Mavericks set up near midcourt, believing that it was their ball, but nobody on the team went to the baseline to collect the ball and throw it in. Golden State, (correctly) assuming it was their ball, all set up on the offensive end of the court and Kevon Looney was given a free dunk.

Chaos on the Court and Social Media

Thearon W. Henderson via Getty Images

Not surprisingly, the Mavericks were up in arms about what they believed was an officiating mistake. Dallas players surrounded the refs at the scorer's table, joined of course by Mark Cuban, who never has any trouble airing his grievances during a game.

The play stood, however, and it proved to be crucial. Golden State got the two-point victory, because of course they won by exactly enough for Dallas to claim they were jobbed out of a win.

Cuban took to social media to explain the way he saw the play, saying in part, "The ref called Mavs ball. The announcer announced it. Then there was a timeout. During the time out the official changed the call and never told us. Then when they saw us line up as if it was our ball, he just gave the ball to the Warriors."

That's not what actually happened, however, as the full video of the incident shows clearly that Nagy pointed first for Warriors ball. Coming off the court, Looney in fact does see Nagy point towards the Mavericks bench and actually stops to ask if Nagy is changing his call, but the official explains that he is pointing for a timeout. Nagy then points with his thumb back over his shoulder to indicate again that it is in fact still Golden State basketball. The call was never changed, as Cuban claims. It was actually clarified.

Crew chief Sean Wright also confirmed Nagy's initial call during his post-game pool report.

"Initially on the floor the original signal was in fact Golden State ball as this can be seen in video," Wright said. "There is a second signal but that signal is for a mandatory timeout that was due to the Mavs."

Shouldn't Something Be Done About This?

Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks talks with head coach Jason Kidd as the team takes on the Houston Rockets in the second half at American Airlines Center

Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The play comes off looking like a blooper where the Mavericks forgot what basket they were defending. Clearly there was confusion about whose ball it was and a team getting a free basket to shoot on is a foolish look for the league.

Dallas guard Luka Doncic said he was surprised that the play was allowed to happen, while coach Jason Kidd pointed out that several people, including official Michael Smith, seemed to be out of position, indicating that even some of the referee crew thought it was Dallas basketball. Even Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he was confused and had a moment of self-doubt, even though he was sure it was Golden State's ball.

But is all this confusion and controversy necessary? Can't we just fix this on the court in real time?

Instead of handing Golden State the ball, should the refs have stopped the action when they saw that the Mavericks were clearly setting up expecting to be on offense? Couldn't they just reconfirm that it was Golden State basketball for the benefit of a clearly confused court?

Possibly, but what precedent does that set for referees being partisan or giving one team or the other the benefit of the doubt? What if the Mavericks were just truly all confused?

Likely it falls on the Mavericks (or any team in doubt) to send someone over to get the ball and force the hand of the referees to tell them they are wrong.

Rule 6, section I.k of the NBA rulebook states: "On a violation which requires putting the ball in play in the backcourt, the official will give the ball to the offensive player as soon as he is in a position out-of-bounds and ready to accept the ball."

This seems to be the only language that covers this matter, and it indicates that the referees are not obligated to wait for the defensive team to be in position before allowing the offensive team to inbound the ball. However, this refers only to the backcourt, meaning the offensive team would need to go the length of the court. In this case, Golden State was in the front court and allowing them to inbound the ball would clearly lead to an uncontested 5-on-0 situation.

Protests in the NBA Cost $10,000 and Are a Shot in the Dark

NBA commissioner Adam Silver announces a pick for the Indiana Pacers during the 2021 NBA Draft

Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

There have been just 35 protests filed with the NBA since 1952, and only eight of them have been overturned, with the result being that the game is replayed from the point of the protest. In this case, that would be the final 13:56.

It has been 15 years since a game has been replayed. The last game overturned on protest was between the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks when the official scorer mistakenly fouled out Shaquille O'Neal. The teams replayed the last 51 seconds of that game the next time they were scheduled to meet. Prior to that, no game had been replayed since 1982.

Cuban has already been on the losing side of a protest, for which a team must pay $10,000 to the league, refundable if their protest is successful. The Mavericks appealed to the league in 2020 on a goaltending review they felt was misapplied. Not only did the league deny their protest, they hit Cuban with a $500,000 fine for his "public criticism and detrimental conduct regarding NBA officiating."

The Mavs' owner was cited for walking on the court, directing comments towards them, talking to reports in the arena and tweeting several times with comments that are highly critical to the league and its officiating staff. Sound familiar?

You can bet that Cuban will be fined again this time.

MORE: How Much Do NBA Referees Make?