Former Dallas Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson sued the franchise on Thursday, claiming he was fired by owner Mark Cuban last summer as retaliation for reporting that Jason Lutin—Cuban’s “right-hand man”, per the lawsuit—sexually harassed and assaulted Nelson’s nephew during a 2020 job interview.
The lawsuit, filed in Dallas County Court, alleges that Lutin victimized Nelson’s nephew in a Chicago hotel room on February 16th, 2020 at All-Star Weekend. The filing also states that Cuban offered Nelson $52 million to withdraw a wrongful termination report and sign a confidentiality agreement regarding the purported abuse of his nephew.
In an email to ESPN, Cuban denied the allegations en masse.
“Everything in that filing is a lie,” he wrote. “We did multiple complete investigations and the only person that did not live up to the standards of the Dallas Mavericks was Mr. Nelson. He was fired as a result. He was well aware of the investigation. He refused to fully participate. I will say it again, everything he said is a lie.”
Lutin provided similar sentiments to ESPN in a separate email.
“What this man [Nelson] is doing to someone like me is absolutely unspeakable,” he wrote. “It’s a complete lie and I defer to Mavs to comment and who have already dealt with this matter,” Lutin said. “And obviously have a lot of information to show none of that ever happened.”
Nelson and the Mavs “mutually parted ways” on June 16th, 2021, ending his 24-season tenure with the team. Reports at the time indicated that friction between he and Haralabos Voulgaris, a former professional gambler personally hired by Cuban in 2018 as Dallas’ director of quantitative research and development, ultimately led to Nelson’s departure.
Former Nike executive Nico Harrison was hired as Nelson’s replacement in late June. Voulgaris, whose rising power in personnel decision-making was a reported source of frustration among many team officials, was out in Dallas three months later, shortly before tipoff of the 2021-22 season.
Nelson’s lawsuit purports that Cuban put contract extension talks with him on hold in fall 2020 due to Nelson reporting Lutin’s alleged sexual abuse of his nephew. The longtime general manager had previously been extended a 10-year, $66 million extension, an offer reportedly pulled by Cuban.
The lawsuit goes into detail regarding the alleged abuse of a young LGBTQ man who was invited to Lutin’s hotel room “to discuss job possibilities” with a high-ranking Mavs official.
“Lutin asked Nelson’s nephew to sit next to him on the bed and then sexually harassed and sexually assaulted an unsuspecting, vulnerable LGBTQ young man seeking employment with the Mavericks,” the lawsuit states. “Lutin’s numerous policy violations and indiscretions were clearly in breach of the Mavericks supposed ‘zero-tolerance’ policy.”
This isn’t the first time Dallas has come under scrutiny for permitting a workplace culture of predatory sexual behavior.
An investigation by the NBA and an outside law firm found that 15 female employees of the Mavs alleged “improper workplace conduct” against former CEO and president Terdema Ussery, who left the team in 2015.
Sports Illustrated had previously reported allegations of abuse from Dallas officials, including former team beat writer Earl K. Sneed, who was put right back on the job in 2011 after being arrested at the team facility for a domestic violence incident. Sneed was also retained after a similar incident involving a different girlfriend, a fellow team employee, in 2014.
The league put Dallas under special and specific scrutiny following its investigation of the franchise’s toxic workplace environment, but Cuban and his team faced no tangible punishment otherwise. He donated $10 million to various women’s groups and hired Cynthia Marshall, a prominent former AT&T Executive and one of the first Black women to cheer for the University of California, Berkeley, as Mavs CEO in 2018.
“In hindsight, it was staring me right in the face, and I missed it,” Cuban told Rachel Nichols in September 2018 of Dallas’ predatory workplace environment. “I wasn’t as focused on the business as I should’ve been…If I was in our business office five times in 15 years, that was a lot, you know. It’s embarrassing to say. There were people who I just hadn’t met and hadn’t talked to.”