DALLAS – Girlfriend at his side, fury on his tongue, Kenyon Martin(notes) made the slow walk from the Denver Nuggets' locker room early Tuesday morning. He had already unloaded nearly a half-dozen f-bombs on Mark Cuban, as well as a couple more on the media, and now he needed one more target to complete his hat trick of profanity.
How about some fans?
As K-Mart strolled down the hallway to the American Airlines Center's loading dock, he passed a handful of Dallas Mavericks supporters still reveling in an arena bar.
"[Expletive] you [expletives]!" Martin shouted, flashing his middle finger for emphasis. "We ain't coming back here!"
All that was missing was some tender music, a cute third-grader and an "NBA Cares" backdrop. NBA Playoffs 2009: Where profane happens.
From Cuban to K-Mart to a couple pockets of idiot fans, there wasn't much for the NBA to be proud of Monday, and that's a shame considering Dirk Nowitzki(notes), Carmelo Anthony(notes) and the rest of the Mavericks and Nuggets produced one of the most thrilling games of these playoffs. Nowitzki's 44 points, Anthony's 41, the Mavs' gritty, sweep-busting 119-117 victory – all of it was diminished by the titillating action off the court:
NBA owner insults NBA player's mother. NBA player's mother harassed by opposing fans. NBA player threatens fans. NBA player threatens owner.
Somewhere in a Fifth Avenue high-rise, league commissioner David Stern is dropping a few f-bombs of his own. He should also be glad TNT's cameras didn't capture all the ugliness.
The scene was disturbing enough to make Cuban do the unthinkable: He apologized.
"The reality," Cuban wrote on his blog, "is that this has gotten out of hand."
The Mavericks owner knows – or should know – he's largely responsible for instigating the mess. The officials ignored an intentional foul by the Mavs at the end of Saturday's Game 3, likely costing them a win. Cuban was rightfully incensed. But he stormed onto the court, brushed aside a photographer and, according to reports, became involved in a verbal altercation between fans and Martin's mother.
Cuban confirms this much: After hearing fans call the Nuggets "thugs," he turned to Martin's mother, Lydia Moore, and said, "That includes your son." Cuban insists Moore couldn't have heard him. Regardless, she heard enough to think Cuban insulted her and Martin wasn't too happy once he found out.
"That's just like saying something to my kids," Martin said at the Nuggets' morning shootaround. "If you got something to say, say it to me. But I'm going to take care of it."
I'm going to take care of it.
Those seven words set the scene for Monday. TNT claims to know drama, and the network was waist-deep in it. With tensions already high because the Mavericks were facing elimination, Anthony was called for a technical after grappling with Mavs guard Antoine Wright(notes). As the officials reviewed the play, Martin looked into the stands and saw some fans hassling his mother.
"You [expletive] better cut the [expletive]," he yelled. "You're going to get [expletive] up."
According to NBA.com's Art Garcia, who was seated within earshot of the incident, Martin then yelled to his mom: "Somebody do something to you, you better tell me. I'm going to [expletive] somebody up."
Martin later exchanged words with some fans seated behind the Nuggets' bench, and the second half brought more of the same. At one point, police officers and arena security were trying to shuffle between two sections of the crowd to deal with separate incidents. Anthony's girlfriend, LaLa Vazquez, was led away from her seat after she scuffled with fans. Nuggets VP Rex Chapman then rushed over to tend to Martin's girlfriend, Trina, who was being harassed behind the team's bench.
Martin's mother watched the rest of the game with security personnel surrounding her seat.
Asked to describe the crowd, Nuggets coach George Karl said: "I'd probably use an uglier word than 'hostile,' but I'm not going to do that right now. I don't think it was very classy."
Martin, who grew up in Dallas, responded likewise. He sought out Cuban on his way off the court, then unleashed a torrent of profanity in his direction. Among the nicer things Martin said, according to witnesses, was that he vowed "to get" Cuban.
Cuban baited Martin through it all, pretending as if he couldn't hear him. When reporters tried to approach K-Mart, who finished the evening with a 17-to-2 f-bomb-to-point ratio, he cursed them, too.
"All you [expletives] trying to do is keep trouble up," Martin said. "Get the [expletive] away from me."
Anthony was a bit more tactful, calling the crowd "disrespectful." "Do we think Mark Cuban's wrong? Yeah," Anthony said. "Should he apologize? Yeah, we think that."
Cuban eventually did, posting an apology on blogmaverick.com shortly after 1:30 a.m. local time.
"I should have not said anything and I was wrong," Cuban wrote. "Hopefully you will accept the apology and we can move on."
Cuban, who is skipping the trip to Denver so he can pick up an award, invited Martin's family to sit in his suite should the series return to Dallas for a Game 6. He also said he'd buy Martin dinner after the season; Karl had previously said he hoped Martin would wait until the summer to settle his differences with the Mavs owner.
The problem: Cuban should have made the apology a day earlier, even 12 hours earlier. Better yet: He should have never said anything to K-Mart's mother.
Cuban is brilliant, and he's been a tremendous owner for the Mavs, turning the sad-sack franchise into a contender. But he's never seemed to understand how his actions set the tone for the franchise and its fans.
If Mark Cuban can insult K-Mart's mom, then why shouldn't I join in the fun?
This also is nothing new for Cuban. He cursed Bruce Bowen(notes) of the San Antonio Spurs after a playoff game in 2006. Earlier this season, he walked onto the court to yell at Nuggets guard J.R. Smith(notes) after Smith threw an elbow that almost hit a Mavericks player.
Cuban was a poor loser when the Mavs lost in the 2006 NBA Finals, and he's been a poor loser in this series. The officials blew a game-changing call. It was a horrible mistake. It happens. No one would have blamed him for blistering the refs, and, still, he couldn't rise above the fray. Someone called the Nuggets thugs, and Cuban just had to weigh in with his own opinion.
If Cuban was the chief instigator, the NBA was his accomplice. The league didn't publicly reprimand anyone involved in Saturday's postgame incident, saying only that its review is continuing. Does Stern really need more than 48 hours to dole out punishment for a five-minute dust-up?
In truth, the league had put itself in an awkward position. How do you immediately penalize the Mavs for getting mad about a mistake the NBA readily admitted its officials made? That points to a larger problem: The playoffs are here, and once again, everyone's talking about the officiating. At the least, the league needs to do a better job of defining flagrant fouls. The Mavs picked up two more on Monday, and neither looked warranted.
Martin, too, must share some of the blame. He was worried about his mother's safety. Fair enough. But continuing to challenge the fans didn't help the situation or his game: two points and two rebounds before fouling out in 33 minutes.
Still, K-Mart had one last shot left in him. So he passed by the Mavs fans on his way out of the arena and raised his middle finger, defiant to the end.
In K-Mart's mind, he ain't coming back. After Monday, maybe that's for the best.
- Mark Cuban