PHOENIX — Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams said the national anthem holds “a special place in my heart” when asked about the Dallas Mavericks’ decision under owner Mark Cuban to not play it in any of their first 13 preseason and regular-season home games, including their first contest with limited fans present against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night.
“I just think Mark created more questions for all the coaches around the league to have to answer,” Williams said Wednesday. “I’m one that enjoys the anthem, but I understand both sides of the table. I’ve heard arguments on both sides and when you look at the origin of the anthem, after some discussion with people who know why we started doing it, I hear them. It’s like, it was done for this reason so we don’t have to do it now.”
Williams was asked the question prior to his team’s 125-124 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night, a day after Tim Cato of The Athletic reported the Mavericks’ decision. NBA Chief Communications Officer Mike Bass released a statement Wednesday that “all teams will play the national anthem in keeping with longstanding league policy,” which Cuban did not dispute.
The national anthem, which was written by Francis Scott Key in 1814, was first played at an American sporting event during a baseball game in 1862, according to USA Today. It was then played before the 1918 World Series, at games during World War I, and popularized at sporting events during World War II.
“I generally enjoy it and I’ve always experienced the anthem in the World Cup and the Olympics,” Williams said. “It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of, was hearing our anthem in a foreign country before you compete or at the end when you win. And so for me, as much as I can appreciate both sides of the coin, it does hold a special place in my heart because of what I’ve experienced.”
According to Brittany Bernstein of Yahoo! Sports, Cuban and the Mavericks made their decision to not play the national anthem at home games in November, which was not made public. Cato reported that multiple of Dallas’ employees noticed the anthem’s removal on their own.
Ahead of the Mavericks’ home game against the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night, when they played the national anthem for the first time this season, Cuban said in a statement that he and his team “respect and always have respected the passion people have for the anthem and our country” but “also loudly hear the voices of those who feel that the anthem does not represent them.”
“We feel that their voices need to be respected and heard, because they have not been,” Cuban’s statement read. “Moving forward, our hope is that people will take the same passion they have for this issue and apply the same amount of energy to listen to those who feel differently from them. Only then we can move forward and have courageous conversations that move this country forward and find what unites us.”
Per The Athletic, the Mavericks are believed to be the first professional North American sports team to not play the anthem before games with fans. The MLS did not play the national anthem during its tournament last summer in Orlando, where there were no fans in attendance.
Per the NBA’s rulebook, “players, coaches and trainers must stand and line up along the foul lines” during the national anthem, which was adopted by the league in 1981 according to USA Today. However, the association has not enforced that rule in recent seasons, as the anthem was notably used as a method of protest against racial and social injustice during its restart of the 2019-20 season in Orlando.