On Your Mark

Win or lose, Reunion Rowdies are now officially Cuban Crazies

I hate Mark Cuban.

But just for a second or two. Then I come back to my senses and realize he's the best damn thing that ever happened to the Dallas Mavericks.

I've hated him momentarily since we met him back in 2000. Hated him for his money. Hated him for his moxie. Hated him for his mansion. (Perhaps "envy" is more appropriate, but just for fun let's stick with "hate," shall we?)

I walked into his 24,000-square-foot, $16 million spread near the Tollway and Northwest Highway and checked out all his elaborate shit. Intricately designed marble floors--pretentious. Ornate wood columns stretching to 20-foot ceilings--fancy-schmancy. Fireplace big enough to park an H3--OK, sorta cool. Two gaudy, blinding chandeliers--borderline gay. And over there...wait. Way cool!

In the corner of a formal dining area as big as your high school gym sat the only piece of furniture: a $1.99 yellow plastic Wiffle-ball bat.

"This is home plate," Cuban exclaimed that day, pointing to the corner. "Anything hit off the chandeliers is an automatic homer."

Hate, please proceed to the butler's cabin out beyond the second swimming pool. We'll catch up later.

Six years into his reign, our love/hate relationship with the Mavericks' bizarre, brilliant billionaire owner continues. He makes us embarrassed one minute; proud the next. Makes us cringe. Makes us laugh. But most of all, like no other sports owner, including the Cowboys' Jerry Jones, he shoves and drags and prods and passionately pleads until suddenly our sorry-ass Mavericks are within 96 minutes of an NBA Championship.

For all his warts and wrongs, Cuban is well worth the trouble. No? Perhaps you'd like a second-term go-round with Ross Perot Jr.? That's what I thought.

As they entered Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat Tuesday night, Cuban's Mavericks were poised to climax their volatile, two-month playoff run in either a parade route or a funeral procession:

A) The Mavs dramatically rally from a 3-2 deficit and win the 26-year-old franchise's first title.

B) In what could only be diagnosed as premature evacuation, the Mavs conclude the worst NBA collapse since 1977 and one of the biggest implosions in the history of sports.

After taking a seemingly insurmountable 2-0 series lead, the Mavs grew overconfident--it's not the Heat, it's the lack of humility--and coughed up uncharacteristic physical and mental errors in Miami. Dirk Nowitzki missed key free throws. Veteran Jerry Stackhouse committed an immature foul. Josh Howard missed key free throws and called basketball's worst timeout since Chris Webber in the 1993 NCAA Championship Game. And coach Avery Johnson and Cuban lost their cool.

Yes, the officiating was bad. But Avery's smug shakedown with the media after Game 5 was bullheaded. While the Little General became a Big Dick, the owner's rant was simply classic Cuban. "Ask me a real fuckin' question," Cuban responded to an inquiry about the enormity of the one-point loss. The outburst raised his all-time record in fines to $1.6 million after being stuck with a $250,000 hickey just hours before Game 6. (Just a hunch, but if Cuban is asked "How good does this feel?" as he hoists the Larry O'Brien Trophy, somehow that equally uncreative question won't prompt "Ask me a real fuckin' question.")

Entering Game 6, it wasn't too late for the Mavs to win the championship. But was it too late for them to win the championship with class?

"I think it's sad for his players that he's decided to become the story of the Finals," NBA commissioner David Stern told the media Tuesday afternoon. "...I think Mark's done a great job for the city of Dallas and the team. But I think the pressure of his first Finals may be getting to him."

I hate Mark Cuban.

But see, just like that, it's gone again.

Just because of the fact we're talking basketball--much less NBA Finals--in June is a testament to Cuban's desire, if not his dignity. Back in B.C. (Before Cuban), those fans with painted faces wore bags on their heads. Like a guy who seems to be in on a joke none of the rest of us get, Cuban first made gazillions by turning a computer into a radio and now has made us all believers by turning a disaster into a dynasty.

That's right, the best part about all this is that Dallas isn't a one-hit wonder. Cuban has helped overhaul a 60-win team that went to the Western Conference Finals in 2003 and rebuilt one that is better and younger. The nucleus of Dirk, Howard, Devin Harris, Marquis Daniels and DeSagana Diop is under 28.

In other words, no team is better positioned for a return to the Finals in 2007 than your Mavericks.

And no owner is better poised to lure us into the full range of emotions than Cuban.

The high-school dropout with arthritic hips who arrived in Dallas in 1982 driving a Fiat and who still lunches on tuna sandwiches and Monster energy drinks from 7-Eleven now has the cyber world hanging on his every word, which this week was a frustrating, yet funny--there I go flopping again--explanation of his profanity-laced interview after Game 5. Wrote Cuban on blogmaverick.com, "I can't think of anything funnier than a 3-year-old cursing. I mean come on, does it really matter if we say Poo Poo or shit?"

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