THERE IS ASIZABLE difference between Mark Cuban, Mavericks maniac, and Mark Cuban,Mavericks owner. Good thing, huh? The first Cuban, who yells and screams andacts as if every call that goes against Dallas is a crime against humanity,freely admits that he recently announced to a few patrons at a Phoenix bar thathe was "the luckiest motherf--- on the planet." The second Cuban, whomade his money in the dot-com boom and is listed by Forbes as the 428thwealthiest man in the U.S. (net worth: $1.8 billion), has forged, with hisoutside-the-box thinking, what is arguably the NBA's model franchise, yet hebelieves so strongly in the importance of all the league's markets that hewon't make a speech in an opposing city unless every member of his audiencepromises to buy a ticket to that night's game. ¬∂ As much as eye-rollingtraditionalists don't want to hear it, there is no denying this fact: Whetheror not his Mavs prevail in the Finals-they took a 2-0 lead over the Miami Heatwith a 99-85 victory on Sunday night in American Airlines Center-the47-year-old Cuban has become the perfect metaphor for this NBA postseason:wide-open, unpredictable and undeniably, wildly fun. There has never been anowner who more vociferously expresses his feelings, more pugnaciously defendshis players or more conspicuously stands outside his team's huddle, earscocked, listening for ... what? "I'm just trying to learn," says Cuban.Heat owner Micky Arison (net worth: $6.1 billion) may be able to buy and sellCuban, yet fans could sooner identify Shaquille O'Neal's haberdasher than the56-year-old cruise-ship magnate.
Cuban lives toconnect. He sends his thoughts and theories hurtling into cyberspace, havinglong ago become pro sports' first owner-blogger. He claims to have saved everysignificant e-mail he has ever sent or received, including the one in which heasked his future wife, Tiffany Stewart, for a first date. Hi, Tiff, this isMark from the gym ... remember me? (They went to Dumb and Dumber.) While Lakersowner Jerry Buss watches games from his suite with sweet young things, Cubanblabs and blogs from his front-row seat near the Mavs bench-Tiffany locatedsafely some 50 feet down the court-the picture of the Alpha Fan 24/7.
Posted: Jun 8,2006, 10:25 PM ET
How are we ahead?We have not played well at all. we took advantage of some mistakes they made,but we need to push the ball more and take it stronger to the hoop. Which iswhat I know [coach] Avery [Johnson] is telling the guys right now. Lets hope wecan play better in the 2nd half.
Cuban'scybermusings, such as the one above posted during halftime of Game 1 againstMiami, would hold little significance had he not transformed arguably the worstprofessional franchise of the '90s-a decade in which Dallas went a horrid199-507-into a potential champion. And though it might seem to some of thesquirming suits in the NBA office that he's run the Mavericks forever, he hastaken them from the trash heap to the Finals in just six years.
Cuban actuallysat still for an interview with SI shortly before the Finals, talking aboutspread sheets, "differentiated fan experience," game presentation andrevenue assistance for small-market franchises. "I get almost as muchsatisfaction knowing I can have a positive impact on the league in general aswatching my team do well," he said. That's a stretch, but any fair-mindedobserver would concede that Cuban has been a far more positive influence thanmany of the established, corporate-style owners. It is beyond passé to considerCuban and David Stern antagonists. The commissioner (below) still detestsCuban's ref-baiting, but he appreciates how Cuban responds to his customers."Fans take that for granted ... that the arena experience should be a placethat [is] welcoming, [where] the fans [are] treated in a way that they deserveto be treated," Stern said. "I think that here in Dallas, that is anabsolute, at the top of the list."
QUESTIONS I WOULDASK AND BLOGGING THE FINALS.
Posted Jun 7,2006, 9:40 AM ET
To show everyonethe depth of my reporting instincts, Im going to offer the questions I wouldoffer the person who is probably taking the biggest onslaught of media, Shaq.Here are the questions I want answers to from Shaquille:
1. Shaq-You haveseveral young children. Which Wiggles song is your favorite? Which do you likethe least?
2. How many timeshave you had to watch Ice Age and did you take your kids to see Ice Age 2?
3. Are your kidsso big they are confused with kids twice their age?
4. Have you everbeen contacted to turn Kazaam into an off-Broadway musical? Has anyone sampledShaq Fu in a hit song yet?
5. Will you admitin public that you have hummed Barney's I Love You song to yourself in agame?
During a game inDecember 2003 a Mavs scoreboard video compared Shaq (then with the Lakers) toFat Albert. Cuban got fined $25,000 by the NBA. "It was money well spentbecause the audience loved it," he says, "and so did Shaq." He'sright: O'Neal later included Dallas among the teams he wanted to play for, oncehe decided he wanted a divorce from Kobe Bryant. ("He's aone-of-kind-dude," Shaq said of Cuban last week, with admiration.)
But Cuban keepsblurring the line between good fun and bad sportsmanship. Before Game 1, ChrisArnold, the Mavs' courtside emcee, told the crowd, "And if the refereesmake a bad call, you know what to do-boo! This game is too important notto."
Cuban offers noapologies. Suggest to him that he's the primary reason that the game-those 48minutes when players actually dribble, pass and shoot-has taken a backseat tothe circus going on inside his arena, and he says, "The game is ancillary.If this [were] about pleasing basketball purists, the Finals would still be ondelayed CBS-TV, and nobody would watch it. What you have to remember is thatthere is no way that 20,000 fans are there because they love basketball."And so there's this irony to this series: The owner who thinks the game isperipheral has reached the place in which the games matter the most.
Not that thegames don't matter deeply to him. In fact, the Mavs have been created inCuban's image: hypercompetitive and irritating to outsiders. There's Johnson'spepper-pot persona, 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki's dour efficiency, forward JoshHoward's desperate pursuit of every loose ball, point guard Jason (Jet) Terry'sritual of running around the court with arms spread, like, um, a jet. WhenTerry gave Spurs swingman Michael Finley a shot to the groin in the Westernsemis, Finley, a bedrock for nine seasons in Dallas before the Mavs waived him,was cast by his ex-team as the bad guy. Cuban is now focused, unapologetically,on creating a Texas-sized rivalry between the Mavs and the San Antonio Spursbecause he believes that bad blood is the lifeblood of a league. "HopefullyI'll be able to help jazz up the Mavericks and the Spurs, and we'll meet formultiple years," says Cuban. "People will think there is hatred betweenFinley and Jason, and between me and the city of San Antonio. If we can keep ongrowing that, we have a good future." What other owner would admitthat?
Posted Jun 4,2006, 11:17 PM ET
• The Mavs CAN'Tplay Defense.
• The Mavs CAN'Tplay a half court game.
• The Mavs CAN'Tget past the first round
• The Mavs CAN'Tbeat <fill in a team here> because <fill in an excuse here>
• Dirk CAN'T playagainst smaller defenders
• Dirk CAN'T takethe ball to the basket
• Dirk CAN'T playdefense
• Dirk CAN'T stepup in the playoffs
• JET CAN'T bethe point guard on a Finals team
• Avery JohnsonCAN'T lead this team to the Finals as a 1st year coach
Thank you. Thankyou to everyone who has ever said or written about what they think the Mavscant do. It was motivation that Avery called on early and often.
The initialreviews of Cuban as an owner mocked the plasma TVs and fluffy, monogrammedbathrobes he bought for the players, perks that are still part of the fabric oflife in Maverick Land. But the players seem to genuinely enjoy each other andrevel in the we're-Dallas-and-you're-not ethos created by Cuban.
"Other ownersI've been around are just suits who show up to shake your hand once in awhile," says backup forward Keith Van Horn, who played for the Nets, 76ers,Knicks and Bucks before joining the Mavs. "Not Mark. He sits across from meon bus rides, and he always sits in the players' section of the plane. He talksabout the same things that we talk about-movies, new technology, things likethat. If he's ever in a bad mood, he doesn't show it. He is upbeat and positiveand always behind us, and that creates a unique atmosphere." Who knows ifthe Mavs really like having the boss with them? But there aren't many other NBAowners who can tell stories about George Clooney, who persuaded Cuban tofinance Good Night, and Good Luck.
During a mediagathering before the Finals in Dallas, Cuban, as is his wont, was chatting infront of the Mavs' locker room, exactly the spot where Johnson was supposed togive a scheduled press conference. While Johnson waxed impatient behind closeddoors, Sarah Melton, the team's cheery director of public relations, said,"Mark, could you move, please?" And Cuban moved. Donald Trump would nothave moved.
In retrospect,that worst-franchise-in-the-'90s tag was a blessing for Cuban. He was going tochange things anyway, but who could argue that things didn't need to bechanged? "When Mark came in, it was almost like a guy trying to change theflow of a river," says assistant coach Rolando Blackman, a former Mav."Everything about the Mavs was negative. Everything. Some people couldmaybe not like Mark personally, but, with the franchise in the shape it was in,you couldn't argue that his changes weren't positive."
Cuban installedsome of his go-go-go buds, George Prokos as the ticket sales executive and MattFitzgerald as a marketing exec, but he retained many others, including seniorvice president, corporate marketing, George Killebrew. "If you wanted tohop on the train, you could stay," said Cuban, who paid $285 million forthe team. "As long as you realized it was going at a different speed."His coaching staff reflects this mixture of the old and the new. He and DonNelson (whose resignation late last season was eagerly accepted by Cuban)coexisted for more than five years, but they were bound for a divorce; theyrespected each other as progressive thinkers, but the clash of egos wasinevitable. Still, Del Harris, one of Nelson's closest friends, is Johnson'stop assistant, and general manager Donnie Nelson is still the primary force inMavericks personnel decisions. "Mark came along at our darkest hour andpulled this franchise up," says Donnie. "I'll never forget that."Don Nelson even remains as a consultant.
To that portionof America that retches at the very sight of Cuban shaking his fist at areferee or charging onto the court, these Finals are a nightmare. And considerthis: His mug might become even more prominent. With the Mavs' depth (they arethe only team to routinely use a nine-man rotation in these playoffs), youth(Nowitzki, Howard, Terry, Devin Harris and Marquis Daniels are all under 29)and deep pockets, it's quite possible that another America's Team from Dallashas arisen-estimated value: $403 million-this one with a lot more bedlam,bluster and, of course, blogging.
I'M A WHINER
Posted May 10,2006, 10:58 PM ET
Im a whiner. Iguess I finally have to admit it. I took a look back at the way I have lived mylife, and I cant come to any other conclusion.... People who dont whine arepunching bags. They just go about their days, their jobs, their lives, knowingthere is nothing they can do to change a darn thing, so why say a word? Theysee no reason to whine because they know they are incapable of affectingchange.... Call me a whiner any day.
A gallery of Mark Cuban photo illustrations, plus fullFinals coverage, at SI.com/nba.
PLAYOFF STATS /// FINALS RATINGS (GAMES 1 AND 2) 20057.0 2006 7.9 /// OVERTIME GAMES 2005 6 2006 9 // GAMES DECIDED BY THREE POINTSOR LESS 2005 12 2006 16
Photo Illustration by SI Imaging;
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (HEAD);
TIM HEITMAN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
FANTASY PLAYER Cuban might act like an overgrown kid, but he's as invested as any Mav in the outcome of each game.
GREG NELSON (INSET)
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
JOHN BIEVER (CUBAN RUNNING)
LUCKY, AND GOOD Cuban calls himself the luckiest, uh, guy on the planet, but even foes acknowledge his role in rehabbing the Mavs.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH