Hope and Glory

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

Then, just to make sure you don't think he's trying to negotiate peace, he adds, "But, on the other hand, I think he's a complete hypocrite."

He's not afraid. That's for sure. Hasn't backed down yet. Not to Zen Phil. Not to the media, either. Peter Vescey, who covers the NBA for the New York Post in addition to serving as an analyst for TNT and NBC, is the best example of the anti-Cuban movement. The scribe-turned-TV-figure regularly mocks Cuban, calling him "Easy Mark" and lambasting him for his free-spending, off-the-hook methods. And Cuban? Well, he doesn't exactly see Vescey as worthy of verbal sparring, doesn't quite have the same respect for him as he does Jackson.

"There's no rivalry there," Cuban replies via e-mail, probably laughing, likely naked, "because he never says anything worth a damn. It's like warring with a third-grader."

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."

Calls to Vescey at the Post were unreturned. Similarly, the Lakers, the Suns, and the Pistons were all contacted to discuss Cuban and his audacious approach. All declined comment, choosing to avoid controversy. At least in print.

"People snipe at me now, but, like I said, they don't usually tell you straight out," Cuban admits. "I get a lot more national criticism. It doesn't bother me. The way I look at it, I can't imagine feeling any worse than I did when Broadcast.com's stock price was down $60 and I was getting calls from little old ladies--literally, little old ladies--asking me what they were going to do now that they put their life savings in my stock yesterday. That's pressure. People with jobs on the line, that's pressure. The beauty of the NBA is, you get a do-over. Every season you get a do-over. Every season you have hope."

This is his world now. Pentium processors and IPOs take a back seat to pick-and-rolls and salary-cap restraints. He couldn't be happier. Despite the enemies he's made. Regardless of all the eyes boring tiny holes in his back.

"You know how you and your buddies will sit around and talk about sports or check out ESPN.com and say, 'This is what I would do?'" he asks, glowing as usual. "I get to do that for real. It's a dream."

The night before, Dallas won its first preseason game by one point. Big deal. Preseason b-ball is as important in the grand scheme of things as choosing a printing manufacturer for tickets. To Cuban, it was more. It was hope. And so there he was, caught on local TV, gleaming into your living room, arms raised in exultation, looking like a drunken college boy in a pair of ratty jeans and a T-shirt.

This is his world. He comes as is, if it so suits him. And it usually does. The team? In their eyes, he can do no wrong--probably, no, definitely, because he constantly lavishes them with the finest amenities. Recently, the Mavericks contracted Hifi.com to create "a high-tech locker room." Each player is furnished with his own state-of-the-art audio and video equipment, flatscreen monitor, DVD/CD player, VCR, digital receiver, and Sony PlayStation, along with a pair of Sennheiser headphones. Last year, during an ice storm, Cuban sent limos to pick up his charges so they'd be safe. Then there's the postpractice/postgame buffets, spreads that are catered by area bistros with the finest fare.

With the previous owners, the players were lucky they got uniforms instead of burlap sacks.

"He's a lot different than [the last owners]," says German import Dirk Nowitzki. At close to 7 feet, with messed blond hair, he looks like the world's largest dust mop. Someone should notify the Guinness Book of World Records. "He gives us the little things players look for. We have food in the locker room, and he comes to hang out with us. That's what makes the difference these days. Anyone can throw money at you, but not everyone is willing to pay attention to the details. I think that's the most important thing in the NBA now. That's what separates you. It makes players talk or want to go to a place."

He's still feeling his way, Cuban is, but for a newbie, he's impressed nearly everyone. This is his world, fresh as it may be, dark and strange as it looks every now and again. Sometimes, he admits, he can't find the light switch. Stubs his foot from time to time. No matter, it's part of the process.

"If I mess up, it's back to the drawing board," he says, typically confident. He raises one of two bushy, black eyebrows slightly before continuing, "People ask, 'Well, what's your plan?' I don't have a plan. I call it organic management. It's not something I came up with or really invented. It's just, you know, when the light turns green, you go; when it's red, you stop. You don't plan, 'Well, OK, I'm going to go through two stop signs and three lights.' You deal with the variables thrown at you and respond to them the best way you can. You make it up as you go."

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