Hope and Glory

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has reason to shout-his money and enthusiasm are resurrecting a dead team

It's August. It's hot. The mercury creeps higher, looking to explode from the thermometer's glass casing. Not yet noon, the lack of a breeze makes it sticky, grafting clothing to the body like a second skin. You could melt a small child on the sidewalk.

Thankfully, the air conditioning is cranking in Cuban's palatial digs, lending a reprieve from the triple-digit reality outside. Must take an entire power plant to cool his place. That, or a small fortune.

The 24,000-square-foot pad, which he picked up for a mere $15 mil, sits on seven acres of neatly groomed, carefully nurtured land. Robert, his gardener, is a busy man. In front, where a crescent-shaped driveway wraps neatly around a beautiful fountain, there are scores of flowers--begonias and impatiens and caladiums. They are salmon-colored and burgundy, cloud white and deep orange, lipstick red and purple velvet.

Spalding-eating grin: "The newness of all this is still really cool," Cuban says. "You just can't believe it."
Spalding-eating grin: "The newness of all this is still really cool," Cuban says. "You just can't believe it."

From the street, where two wrought-iron gates and a wall reminiscent of the big one in China shoot skyward, the grounds look like a botanical garden. Cuban could charge admission. It's that aesthetically pleasing.

The back yard is just as stunning. A large, opulent pool divides the land, and the sun reflects majestically off the water toward the "guest house." This is where Dennis Rodman stayed last year for a pittance.

That was a gaffe, the Rodman experiment. A big one. If Cuban's energy is his biggest asset, then his propensity to leap forward without looking can be, at times, his chief detriment--at least in the NBA. It was a crazy idea, bringing in such an eccentric, a guy who would have been a better Clairol Color Girl than he was a basketball player. Because for all his skill, for all the desire and uncanny knack for rebounding, Rodman's traveling freak show always overshadowed his on-court performance. It was a lesson in brief for Cuban. Taking chances is good. Taking them with a proven problem, one who didn't fit the style of a team that is building from the ground up, is less than good.

Not far from the Rodman memorial, there's also a tennis court. And a basketball court. A playground too, which came with the house. Cuban has a serious girlfriend, Tiffany Stewart, but no children. Although he's guarded about his relationship, he'll share some details if you prod. When they're together, it's not some extravagant affair, he says. They'd rather go for a casual lunch, enjoy each other's company, maybe shoot over to Gilbert's on Sunday mornings or stop by Chaya on Royal for sushi. The movies are a frequent haunt too, and the Pocket Sandwich Theatre on Mockingbird is a favorite. "Nice, simple places," Cuban says.

Well, when you're living in Shangri-La and you have to get away every now and again, you may as well go peasant, right? There's enough open space here to throw around a football. Or land a rescue chopper.

Inside, past large, heavy doors and a foyer replete with marble and crystal and fragile delicates, Cuban is tucked away in a cluttered office. Five computers suck up space. On the floor, wires crisscross more wires that weave toward electrical outlets and over still more wires. A window sheds natural light into an otherwise dark room, a room with more wood than most forests. This is his nerve center, where he goes to work most days. Sometimes, lots of times, he likes to do his business here, sans clothing, just as God created him. Trots downstairs, butt-ass naked and plops down in the leather chair near all those computers. Says he's more productive that way.

Thankfully, he's dressed. For the moment.

Cuban estimates 90 to 95 percent of his work is done right here, by computer. This is the nerdy side to the complex, intelligent neophyte owner of the Mavericks. He researches basketball trades via the Internet. If he finds one to his liking, he determines the financial feasibility of a deal through an Excel spreadsheet program he "whipped together in a few minutes."

This is his function, primarily. He has less to do with the actual approval process than you might think. Likes to think of himself, rather, as an initiator and a finalizer. He'll get an idea for a trade, see a player with whom he's enamored, and run it by Nellie. If Nellie's good with it, that's when Cuban goes to work, manipulating numbers to the best of his ability, trying to pull off a coup where possible--like the Laettner trade. Originally, reports had Laettner slated to be shipped to the Lakers in a four-team extravaganza. But Cuban liked the idea of making the ex-Piston a Maverick. So did Nellie. And here he is.

It's been nearly a year since Cuban ventured to last season's Mavericks opener. Ross Perot Jr. owned them then. Or mismanaged them. Whatever, most of the seats at Reunion were empty that night. It was quiet. And embarrassing. A Dallas fan and routinely hysterical when lending support, Cuban surveyed the situation from courtside seats and shook his head uneasily.

"I was sitting there thinking how much I love this team and how nobody else cares," Cuban says, recalling that fateful evening. "That was the first time I literally thought about buying the team. I just couldn't believe no one was there and no one was into it."

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