Hope and Glory

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

Before Cuban, these types of add-ins were restricted to Portland owner Paul Allen--one of the only owners with as much juice as Cubes.

"It's not about money," Cuban says slowly. "It's about getting people to want to work for you. I want people to come here. I tried to do the same thing at Broadcast. We're trying to create an environment where people want to work.

"I've said this before. In the dot-com world, you see examples of people getting $100 million...Amazon gave somebody a billion dollars worth of [stock] options. A billion dollars worth of options to come work for them. That's the world I come from. So, like, you have to compete in a huge way to get the talent and the people you want. So, for me, it's not about the money."

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."

Maybe. But if you're an NBA owner hard up for extra income, you could tap an ATM--or Cuban. Not that any of them would ever admit to such a strategy. In their minds, they're dignified, reserved. They don't need him. Besides, who does this punk think he is, anyway, coming into their league and making such a mess? In a little less than a year, he's managed to change the NBA's thought process, shaking up a previously stable emulsion to its dismay. Leapt into his new passion with the fervor of a man who is making a rival's wife his personal concubine.

Naturally, this never sits well with the rival. From jump, the old guard thumbed its nose at Cuban, so much so that, during the approval process, he shot his mouth off in retaliation.

"When I was going through that, they gave me a lot of shit," he says, curling his lip slightly, perhaps with contempt. "It was like being a pledge in Hell Week. I told [NBA Commissioner David] Stern, 'I'm not 18. This is not a fraternity I'm trying to pledge.' Then I asked if they were going to turn me over and paddle me. [Stern] just looked at me."

It's that attitude, that brazen style and his willingness, his ability to add millions to trades when needed, that has only furthered the league's disdain. Jealousy and envy are old chums in this world, always lurking. Recently, the Chicago Tribune reported that Cuban's jabs at LA owner Jerry Buss were stirring an already volatile pot. The story quoted an unnamed Western Conference owner as saying, "That's crossing the line. We're going to have to have some people talk with [Cuban]."

"You know, if they would just look at what I'm doing, they would know I'm not just going off like a crazy man," Cuban retorts. "I'm not just throwing money at people. But that's not the point. If you're ready to respond and your hands are tied, for us, the response that we give makes us look like bad guys for throwing money around.

"The reality is, if you do the math, we've already sold more tickets than we did all of last year, so any money that I've given out has pretty much paid for itself. And we've got a far better team in the meantime.

"But they'll never tell you straight up [what they think of you]. No one calls you and says, 'What the fuck are you doing?' You always read about it in the press more than you hear it. It's more of a venting process. Like the Phil Jackson comments."

Right. Phil Jackson, Lakers coach. He has seven NBA Championship rings--six from his days with the Chicago Bulls. Cuban has none. Jackson is widely regarded as one of the best basketball minds around. His antagonist, frankly, is not. You'd think Jackson couldn't care less about a seat-of-your-pants owner in a hick town in a hick state. That would be beneath him, at least as far as dealing with the hoops community is concerned. You'd think, his being into Zen and self-control, he'd let it go. You'd think.

Jackson, for some reason, doesn't think. At least not when discussing Cuban. Instead, he's preferred to jaw first, evaluate second. At times, he's referred to Cuban as "having his head up his ass." When Cuban fired back--calling him "Zen Phil" to get a dig in--Jackson snapped that he had better "keep his mouth shut." The battle continues. Reporters act as liaisons, hoping to start the next salvo and then ducking the fusillades when it does.

There is a purpose to all this snickering, though. At least for Cuban. He may be new to the NBA, but that doesn't mean he's ignorant of its intricacies, of the importance of good public relations.

"It just lets people know...I mean, all I can say to Phil Jackson is, 'Thank you.'" Cuban beams like a prep-school kid with a secret. "'Thank you.' Because it's telling the rest of the league you're looking over your shoulder. You're concerned about the Dallas Mavericks, where 10 months ago you never would have known what my name was. He's helping me market. Shit, if Phil Jackson is worried, something must be going on here; we must be doing something right. He mentioned the Mavericks in the same breath as the Portland Trailblazers? You know? And Phil Jackson is the one saying it. So, on that side, I thank him."

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