Posted Feb 11 2010 2:37PM
DALLAS -- Mark Cuban predicted the scene around All-Star weekend would make the Super Bowl look like a bar mitzvah, with the parties and mayhem taking over the area long before Sunday's tipoff. If it sounds like the outspoken Mavericks owner is going for broke, think again.
He's worth more than $2 billion. He doesn't do broke.
Cuban has taken his share of risks, most of the well-educated variety, in becoming one of the most influential personalities in business and in professional sports. He's also never thought strictly with his wallet -- why else buy the worst franchise of the 1990s?
Cuban's passion for the Mavericks has made for several heart-wrenching decisions since he bought the club on Jan. 4, 2000 for a then-record $285 million. Letting go a couple fan favorites that Cuban considered friends -- Steve Nash and Michael Finley -- took him through the emotional grinder. But they were choices he had to make. Cuban wonders if his lack of foresight led to firing former coach Avery Johnson.
Undaunted, Cuban heads into this weekend still hoping to pack 100,000 fans into Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The league and local fire marshals might not be onboard with the six-figure goal. But when has Cuban not thought monumental?
"Why not go for it?" he asked. "What do we have to lose?"
Even though Dirk Nowitzki is the only one of the Mavericks in the All-Star Game, host duties won't fall on the 7-footer. The emcee for the weekend just happens to be the guy who shares those MC initials.
NBA.com sat down with Cuban inside his American Airlines Center courtside bunker before a recent Mavericks game, after seven games of pickup. The one-time Dancing with the Stars contestant is doing what he can to stay in shape. The boyish-dot.com billionaire is 51. Time flies.
NBA.com: Do you have any idea how big this game is going to be?
MC: No. That's how big it's going to be. You've been to other All-Star games and they shut cities down. I don't think people realize that. You hear about the Super Bowl and the parties, but you don't hear people complaining about not being able to get anywhere in the city. My biggest concern is everyone in Dallas is going to hate me afterward because of the traffic.
NBA.com: Does all this hype around the All-Star Game actually detract from the game?
MC: No because watching on TV is one thing and that's going to be how most people see it. The people that go to the game, it's just for the experience of being at the game. It's not watching a game. Of all the All-Star games I've been to, I think I've seen 30 minutes of action in total. I pay attention when Dirk or Nash are on the court. I don't think it's going to detract from it at all. It'll be a great experience for people to go out there and see Cowboys Stadium. If people afterwards only talk about watching it on the Jumbotron, that's just part of the experience.
NBA.com: Will you be bringing the All-Star Game back?
MC: Of course. It's great for the economy of North Texas. If the league wants to have it here every three, four or five years, I'm all for it. I'm going to make sure it comes back.
NBA.com: What was it like around here when you bought the team from [former owner Ross Perot, Jr.?
MC: He didn't care about the team, fans didn't care about the team, the city didn't care about the team and that was reflected in the impact they had on the economy and on fan interest. Once we started to get better, all that changed. Having the focus on Dallas as an NBA city has increased the value of the franchise significantly and has increased the opportunities for us as an organization.
NBA.com: It's got to feel special that you guys helped make basketball relevant again around here?
MC: No question, because it was an outhouse when I got here. I was a fan, but I was one of the few. It reminded me growing up in Pittsburgh and being an ABA fan. No one cared. I'd seen that before and that's what spurred me to buy the team. Being here opening night in '99 and there were about 14,000 people there. That shows you how far it had fallen. Think about that. A non-sellout opening night leads to me buying the team and it turns into the All-Star Game here with the potential of 100,000 people. It's incredible.
NBA.com: Just the fact that 14,000 people where there for a terrible team had to tell you Dallas was a sleeping giant.
MC: That was the announced attendance, [laughs] but I didn't look at it like that at all. I looked at it and said they were doing this so poorly, I couldn't do any worse. I figured that I'm such a basketball fanatic, how much fun it would be. I had no idea how it would turn out.
NBA.com: Can you remember the vibe around the team is this picture?
MC: I remember [former media relations director] Greg Elkin coming to me and saying [Sports Illustrated] wanted to do a photo of us. I said the only way I'm going to do something stupid like this is if it's for a cover. There was one with a rope and a whip. I look the same age as Nash back then.
NBA.com: Are those some of the personal moments that you remember over the last 10 years?
MC: I remember singular moments like running on the court in Utah after the first playoff [series] win. When we were in Utah, I also said that I'd get Mavs fan a ticket because the game wasn't sold out. So when we go to the bus for Game 5, there are hundreds of Mavs fans around the bus. That was the most incredible thing I've ever seen. And there are moments ... beating Houston by 40 in Game 7 and Ginobili fouling Dirk or holding the Western Conference trophy or buzzer beaters or singing Beatles song with Dirk and Nash. There are so many.
NBA.com: Are there things now that you wish you knew 10 years ago?
MC: Yeah, most of them are financially driven. Making decisions, trusting different people, discovering motivations that I didn't recognize at the time. I was really naïve about those things that still cost me money today. That's OK. That's just part of the deal.
NBA.com: Were those hard lessons to learn?
MC: What's different than other businesses is you get do-overs every year, and that works for you and against you sometimes. You learn very quickly you're not as smart as you think you are. That's probably the biggest transition coming into this. Anybody who buys a team has obviously had some level of success in business because that's how you get to afford the team. OK, what's worked for me before is going to work for me again, and I'm going to have an advantage over everybody else. I remember thinking I'll figure out how the salary cap works better than anybody else. Or I'll take a different approach and pay twice as much and have shorter contracts. And then you realize everybody has thought of a lot of those things ahead of you. You don't really have the traditional business advantage that you might have thought you had. If there was a template, everybody would be doing it.
NBA.com: Any cases with players where personal feelings interfered with business?
MC: Of course. Would I have let Nash go or Fin go or traded Erick Strickland who was my first friend on the team?
NBA.com: Those moves difficult to make?
MC: Hell, yeah they were difficult. There are a lot of things that didn't go exactly like we thought they would. The Nash deal was horrible for me personally, so was Fin. You just have to take in all the information and make a decision.
NBA.com: You recently said your team isn't very good right now. Does that change your mindset going up to the trade deadline?
MC: I've said stuff like that before and everybody makes a big deal about it at every trade deadline. You also qualify it that every team goes through ups and downs during the season. The year we went to the Finals is the year Kobe scored 62 on us and everyone thought we were terrible. Here we are taking about "we suck" and we're in first place in the hardest division in the NBA. Every team has ups and downs. A team that wins 60 loses 22.
NBA.com: Anything else change for you over these years?
MC: The other thing that's changed that's the most surprising is as you get older things go faster. The seasons are faster now and that actually makes it a little bit easier. Whereas in the beginning when it was new to me, every game was just the end-all, be-all. Now with kids and having been through it for 10 years, every game is important ... it's just not the just the end-all, be-all.
NBA.com: Rick Carlisle is the third coach on your watch. Is there anything you regret or wish you could change with Don Nelson or Avery Johnson?
MC: Hiring a coach is the hardest thing I do. It's a lot harder than getting players just because there are so many different personalities they have to deal with. I've learned some from all three coaches, good and bad, and about myself. With Avery the biggest mistake I made was stepping away. If I stayed involved like I was around Nellie, Avery might still be coach.
NBA.com: What's your relationship like with David Stern?
MC: I like David. A good business relationship is one where you don't always agree and we don't always agree, but since I'm right most of the time -- not all the time -- he has to go along.
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