For two days, Cuban vs. Simmons was billed as the marquee event at last weekend's MIT Sloan Sports Analytic Conference, sponsored by ESPN. It certainly didn't disappoint as the two took the stage late Saturday and engaged in an hour-long discussion ranging from the NBA lockout to how teams can engage more with fans. But just past the midway point of the talk, things got weird. Or offensive. (Probably both.)
About 40 minutes into the one-on-one, which was doubling a Very Special Episode of the B.S. Report, Cuban started talking about ways he, as Dallas Mavericks owner, has tried to get fans' faces away from their gadgets and more into in what's happening in the arena around them. Dancers, the Jumbotron, props, what have you. But there's one thing that's off limits: "I have an automatic 'you're fired' policy if you do the wave. Seriously."
The crowd was silent, so he repeated it for emphasis. Oh, he's serious! So much applause, laughter, and incessant typing soon followed. Cuban followed that up with this: "There's no bigger energy killer than doing the wave, right? Other than doing 60 minutes of Kiss Cam."
Simmons: "Man, I really like the Kiss Cam."
Cuban: "I know you do."
Simmons: "The Kiss Cam plays great with my daughter."
Cuban: "No, it's cool. You and your boyfriend do it every day." (Or something very close to that effect. My audio is a touch garbled, but that's my best interpretation.)
The crowd, as you can hear, clearly didn't care for the joke and neither did Simmons, who (following a brief defense from Cuban) does his damnedest Chris Paul impression, pivots on a dime, and steers far, far, far away from what was just seen and said.
I remember walking out of the conference maybe 30 minutes after that and hearing two guys behind me on the escalator mumbling about Cuban, some joke, and whether he'd get in trouble, so it clearly resonated with those whose faces weren't buried in their gadgets. In truth, the joke never registered with me because I didn't hear him say it. As you can hear from my manic keyboard pounding, I was too busy tweeting out the "do the wave and you're fired" joke. Stupid, stupid Twitter.
Of course, to no one's surprise, the comment has been edited out of the podcast. Deleted and scrubbed, like it was never said, by ESPN, the conference sponsor.
The first person to really dig in on this debacle was Carly Carioli of The Boston Phoenix, Simmons' old employer. Yahoo!'s Dan Devine followed that up with an excellent commentary today on Ball Don't Lie, which you should really go read in its entirety. (Most noteworthy: ESPN on the record saying that Simmons' podcasts are "routinely edited and it was decided to drop those remarks out of the posted podcast.")
But what these pieces don't pick up on - and that this audio does - is Simmons' remark on how his daughter loves the Kiss Cam, which then leads into Cuban's weird "boyfriend" comment. You can interpret that and Cuban's limited comedic sensibilities however you want, but if we're all going to make an informed decision on what was and wasn't inferred, then listen to the complete and unedited exchange.
Update (2:46 pm): Mark Cuban has issued an apology on his blog:
This past week I did an interview at a sports conference. It was a 1 on 1 sit down. During the conversation the topic of the Kisscam at sporting events came up . The interviewer mentioned it and commented "I like the Kiss Cam," In response to the interviewer comment, I said "That's because you and your boyfriend are always on it."
Totally sophomoric. I quickly realized that the comment wasn't appropriate, so I added ""Or his girlfriend, this is gender-independent commentary."
I made a mistake in making the comment. I wasn't trying to be hurtful. It wasn't a comment on anyone's sexuality. It was just me trying to be funny. It wasn't. I quickly realized it and tried to fix it. I hoped at the time I didn't offend anyone.