Q&A with Cynthia Marshall: The Mavs Family Responds to Pandemic

Interview by Mary Martin and Jan Osborn. Photos courtesy of Cynthia Marshall.

As major cities have ground to a halt and national sports have suspended games and seasons, Cynthia Marshall hasn’t slowed down. Her leadership of the Dallas Mavericks as CEO, and her influence in the Mavs Foundation has allowed for quick, big-impact decisions that are helping not only the Mavericks team and employees, but also nonprofits and those they serve across North Texas. Read on to hear directly from Cynthia (or Cynt, as she’s known by friends) about her perspective during this crisis.

1. The NBA closures were one of the first signals of a wider cultural shift due to Coronavirus (COVID-19). How much warning did you have for that decision, and what was the first thought to cross your mind when you realized the season would be stalled? 

I knew of and participated in some discussions to consider options if the season were to get suspended, so it wasn’t a complete surprise. When and how it happened was a surprise. My primary thought once the suspension was announced (by the way, we were playing during the announcement) was for the safety of all who had been infected with the virus and what steps we needed to take relative to the health and safety of our employees and their families. 


I thought about the financial well-being of our staff and wanted to reassure them they would be okay. It was important to me they had some sense of stability and certainty in an uncertain time. Mark and I already had a conversation about paying game day and part-time workers, so we needed to get that communicated. The plan was to be ahead of it and 100% focused on our people. It’s great to work with a leader who puts the health and well-being of his employees as the top priority. 

Because NBA Commissioner Adam Silver did such a great job of communicating the latest information, we were able to develop a number of contingency plans if the suspension of the season were to take place. My plan was to meet with our staff the following morning, reassure them we’re going to get through this and for their safety we would be temporarily working from home, so we mobilized and took action. This was pre the announcement of any type of “shelter in place” mandate by our local officials. 

2. When it comes to the Dallas community, the Mavericks family and Mavs Foundation have stepped up in a big way to support the local workforce and nonprofits. How did your personal values come into alignment with the Mavs to prioritize that giving? 

There are a few groups of people I immediately thought about: a) Senior citizens who are most vulnerable to illness and mobility issues; b) Children who are homeless and hungry when school is closed because they get shelter and meals from school; c) Food banks and pantries who need to serve more people; d) Victims of domestic violence who could be forced to stay home, thus experiencing more abuse (primarily women and children; e) Healthcare workers and first responders who need more support personally and professionally; f) Small business workers and owners who could lose their jobs/businesses and g) Educators who need to figure out a way to serve their students so they can still learn. 

I was thinking about all of this at once, as were others. I’m sure these members of our community were top of mind based on my personal experiences growing up, raising a family, and my professional experience as a business leader and former Chair of a state Chamber of Commerce. My values of Respect (#BeNice2People), Teamwork (#NoManIsAnIsland), and Action (#BeAboutIt) informed my priorities. With these values, making decisions on what needed to be done was easy. We carry these values throughout the Mavs family. 

Use your voice. Think about these 6 things to engage in or create for others. Advocacy. Awareness. Availability. Accessibility. Affordability. Action. 
— Cynthia Marshall, CEO, Dallas Mavericks

3. As you look toward an uncertain future for the city, the local economy, and the return of the NBA season, how are you encouraging your team? 

We are focused on lots of virtual communication (e.g. one on one sessions, all team Wednesday morning virtual huddle). This morning included a great medical overview and Q&A session with two members of Parkland’s medical team. They are incredible! Our group is engaged in Mavs FIT and doing things at the same time each week to enhance our physical and mental health (e.g. outside activity at home at 5:00pm on Tuesdays; encouraged to share pics). 

Community service via donations, patronizing local businesses, assisting with virtual learning, etc. We’re in contact with our fans (i.e. season ticket holders) who have also made donations. Their outreach to help has been heartwarming. The stories we share not only inspire our team to do more, but “doing” gives them purpose. 

I also send out a weekly letter on Fridays to keep folks informed and encouraged. We got this!

4. Tell us a little bit about how individual Mavericks players and coaches are using their influence to help here in North Texas. 

Our players and coaches have always been integral to our work in the community and today they are needed more than ever. Several players have personally donated to nonprofits and critical needs here in our area including Maxi Kleber giving $20,000 for meals for kids out of school, and Luka and Dwight joining Mark and the Mavs Foundation to donate $500,000 to support childcare costs for healthcare workers. Our players and Coach Carlisle continue to step up and are now providing meals for healthcare workers and first responders at the City of Dallas COVID-19 Testing Sites and Emergency Operation Center, as well as for healthcare workers at Parkland Hospital. And they do their part to encourage our fans during the hiatus with motivational, inspiring and fun messages on our social media. We can all do our part, even from home. 

5. How important has it been to collaborate with other nonprofits and foundations in order to see a larger impact? 

We know that we are not the experts and collaboration with our nonprofit partners, but also with our for-profit sponsors, is critically important. There are so many needs facing our city and our country right now, we know it will take all of us working together to make sure those who need our help get the support they need. 

A photo sent from Cynt’s home office where she is sheltering-in-place. March 26, 2020.

A photo sent from Cynt’s home office where she is sheltering-in-place. March 26, 2020.

We’ve also been highly connected with Mayor Eric Johnson and city, county and state leaders who are leading the charge around public health and safety. We have an opportunity to amplify the messages from the city and others around what we can do to “flatten the curve” and stop the spread. We’ve joined together to create PSAs to help our fans and all of us understand what we can do to help. 

The phrase “bigger than basketball” is often used when we talk about giving back to our community. The response to this global pandemic is the epitome of “bigger than basketball” as the NBA and its teams look to do our part to help people across the globe come together and work through these tough times. (“NBA Together”

6. From your point of view, what is the best way for the North Texas community to follow your example to support those who are at-risk due to health or economic factors? 

We have to remember, we’re all in this together. We are our brother’s/sister’s keeper. Help in any way possible, while adhering to government mandates. The mandates are in place to keep us all healthy. 

Read as much as possible to keep on top of the immediate needs of the community. Some needs aren’t top of mind for a variety of reasons. This is a community issue that requires commUNITY! As establishments, businesses, and services are forced to close, think about the adverse financial impacts for those impacted. As medical needs are known, think creatively/innovatively about offering a solution. 

Use your voice. Think about these 6 things to engage in or create for others.

Advocacy. Awareness. Availability. Accessibility. Affordability. Action. 

Focus on what you “can” do versus what you can’t do.

If this story has inspired you to support the North Texas nonprofit community, visit our How to Support Nonprofits During Social Isolation page to learn how you can get involved!