How Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall Cleaned Up The Franchise’s #MeToo Mess

How Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall Cleaned Up The Franchise’s #MeToo Mess

Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall is credited as the woman who saved the Dallas Mavericks franchise after the pro basketball team was exposed for its culture of misogyny and predatory sexual behavior in the front office.

Marshall, herself a survivor of physical abuse, was hired in March 2018 after a Feb. 20, 2018 Sports Illustrated article was published titled, “Exclusive: Inside the Corrosive Workplace Culture of the Dallas Mavericks.”

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As a result of the article, the Mavericks hired investigators to check out its own workplace culture. In September this year, a 43-page report was published that showed 20 years of toxic workplace culture. In lieu of paying a fine to the NBA, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban chose to donate $10 million to groups dedicated to stopping domestic violence and developing women leaders in the sports industry, Bloomberg reported.

The NBA caps fines against owners at $2.5 million, so Cuban’s $10 million donation was seen by some as a staggering amount. Others saw it as a small price to pay for the damage to the team’s reputation.

Cynthia Marshall
Interim CEO of the Dallas Mavericks Cynthia Marshall speaks during a press conference, Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)


Former Mavericks CEO Terdema Ussery allegedly propositioned women for sex, seldom promoted female employees and once asked a female colleague whether she was planning to get “gang-banged,” according to Sports Illustrated. He left the team in 2015 for a job at Under Armour Inc., but lasted less than two months there.

The investigators’ report said Ussery and Cuban protected sexual harassers and sometimes encouraged their behavior. When an employee was arrested outside the office on accusations of domestic violence, Cuban told the team’s legal counsel to hire an attorney for the employee and offered to pay the bill.

The Mavericks last won an NBA championship in 2011, but 2018 has been transformational for them, Mary Pilon reported for Bloomberg.

Marshall implemented 100-day turnaround plan with four parts, implementing them in this order:

  • Zero tolerance
  • Create a playbook for women in the organization
  • Transform the culture
  • Improve operational effectiveness

In June the Mavericks brought on Luka Doncic, “a teenage phenom from Slovenia who’s changed its fortunes. As of mid-December, the team was 15-14, its best record at this point in the season since 2015,” Pilon reported.

When the Mavericks hired her, Marshall, 58, was in retirement after working at AT&T Inc. She’d spent 30 years-plus working her way up to head of human resources and chief diversity officer. At the time, Cuban held the NBA record for the most fines ever paid by an individual or a team — mainly for criticizing the league and its officials in interviews, on Twitter, and courtside.

“The optics of a very public white male billionaire asking a woman of color to clean up his mess aren’t great,” Pilon wrote.

When the investigators’ report was released in September, Cuban told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that he had no explanation for actively protecting at least one harasser. “In hindsight, it was staring me right in the face, and I missed it,” Cuban said.

Marshall is “just great,” Cuban said. “If I had known her sooner, my life would have been a lot easier.”

Marshall grew up in the projects of Richmond, Calif. She saw her father shoot another man in self-defense and had to be escorted to and from school by a police officer. Her father broke her nose. After other violent incidents, her mother moved Marshall and her siblings out of their home. Still, she says she had a great childhood, Bloomberg reported. “Even with the stuff with my father, my mother worked hard. She went to great lengths to make sure we were normal, as normal as could be.”

Marshall attended the University of California at Berkeley on a full academic scholarship and dumped her high school boyfriend to focus on her studies. She became Berkeley’s first Black cheerleader. She later reconnected with the boyfriend and they’ve been married for more than 30 years. After graduating with degrees in business administration and HR management, Marshall went to work at AT&T in 1981, managing long-distance operators in San Francisco and working her way up through the ranks.

She’s a lifelong sports fan but said she had no experience working in sports before coming out of retirement to join the Mavericks as CEO.

“I read that article (in Sports Illustrated) and I thought, What woman in her right mind would want to work there?” she said. What won her over, she said, was speaking to some of the women at the Mavericks about their experiences and lack of support. She saw herself in them and felt obliged to help. At a Feb. 26 press conference after accepting the job, Marshall told the media she was doing this “for the sisterhood.”

Here are some other things Marshall has done for the Mavericks:

  • She arranged for counselors to help the staff cope with the toxic culture.
  • She started a hotline for employees to submit anonymous reports of improper office conduct.
  • She created new jobs and filled open ones, bringing in a new head of HR and a chief ethics and compliance officer.
  • She established the Dallas Mavericks Advisory Council — 26 local leaders including heads of domestic violence shelters, who meet quarterly to provide feedback and advice to the front office.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sent an email to the league’s board of governors “strongly” encouraging all teams to follow the 13 recommendations outlined in the Mavericks’ investigation, Bloomberg reported. Many of them overlapped with Marshall’s 100-day plan.

“We have literally transformed the NBA,” Marshall said. “Drop the mic—but we’re not going home.”