Posted Aug 8 2010 2:32PM
Mark Cuban quietly slipped out the back door, avoiding cameras and reporters along the way. Not exactly what you'd expect from the most approachable and outspoken owner in sports.
People don't associate Cuban with graciousness. Sideline tantrums and fines topping seven figures have a way of painting an unflattering picture, regardless of how broad the strokes are.
Dallas area fans see past the shortcomings, and justifiably so. The Mavericks were a joke of a franchise before the dotcom billionaire swooped in 10 years ago with more than just money. A decade of 50-win seasons and playoff berths has followed. Yes, Cuban deserves credit.
But for the first time on a grand scale locally, Cuban's adopted stomping grounds took up with his competition. It just so happened the other corner had a certified Texas legend, boots and all. Nolan Ryan stood in the way of Cuban's bid to buy the Texas Rangers, setting up a modern-day Wild West shootout in a Fort Worth courthouse last Wednesday.
The only guys in Dallas with more street cred than Ryan wore stars on the side of their helmets. So for all of Cuban's common-man backing in North Texas, he didn't stand a chance against the Hall of Famer with a résumé of seven no-hitters, the career strikeout record and a headlock pummeling of Robin Ventura at the age of 46.
Heck, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wouldn't have fared any better against Ryan.
Cuban forged on, not worrying about his image or the portrayal of his intentions. On his blog last week, he wrote about first looking into buying the Rangers more than a year ago and believed that he was closing in on owning the team several times. The deals ultimately fell through and the Ryan group emerged in December.
Ryan's group, also fronted by Pittsburgh attorney Chuck Greenberg, thought it had an agreement in place to buy the team from Tom Hicks only to have it sidetracked by creditors. The team went into bankruptcy and up for auction. Cuban reentered the process over the last few weeks, believing the business side of the deal now made sense.
Cuban teamed with Houston businessman Jim Crane. Since his past ownership dalliances with the Rangers weren't public knowledge, many perceived this one as a ninth-inning attempt to steal the Rangers from Ryan's group. Ironically, many Metroplex fans begged Cuban to buy the baseball club for years.
Cuban, at his core, is a fan. He was an upper-deck Mavericks season ticket holder long before stocking the locker room with PlayStations. He's a guy who wants to win titles. He's been close in Dallas. He sees World Series potential in Arlington.
But in this fight, the Mavericks owner was the enemy.
Not only is Ryan beloved by Rangers fans, he's been team president for the last three years. The Rangers are winning big, owning the largest division lead in baseball. The franchise is zeroing in on its first playoff berth since 1999.
Ryan has set the tone for an organization that was as lost as the Mavericks were during the 1990s. He also would have walked if Cuban's group emerged. While Cuban wouldn't have ousted Ryan -- convincing Ryan to stay onboard was Cuban's first priority -- the line in the sand was drawn. Ryan's departure would have been a PR disaster on par with Jones firing Tom Landry.
There were also questions whether Cuban would even be approved by Major League Baseball. He attempted to buy the Chicago Cubs three years ago. He offered the most money (more than $1 billion) but also alienated baseball's owners, a no-no in the buttoned-up and buttoned-lip club. Quick, name another baseball owner now that George Steinbrenner has passed away.
Truth is America's pastime could use Cuban, his marketing insight and passion. He connects with fans. He spends money. He also speaks his mind and challenges. Think NBA officials have it rough? Imagine the fallout when a blown call costs Cuban's team in a sport that largely ignores technology.
Bud Selig doesn't want David Stern's headaches, but baseball needs to shake things up. This is a league that recently celebrated the contributions of the ultimate maverick owner. Cuban is the 21st century version of Steinbrenner. What are the chances of The Boss getting approved in today's MLB? Probably about as good as Cuban's.
Cuban didn't end up with the Rangers. The Cuban-Crane bid topped out at nearly $600 million, but it wasn't enough in a bizarre and captivating 10-hour showdown that traded six-shooters for four-letter bombs. Lawyers, not Cuban, were hurling expletives around the courthouse. Cuban, wearing the one suit he claims to own, kept his cool and thought several times that his group was in control of the auction.
Ryan's group fired the last fastball and Cuban's conceded well past midnight. The courtroom erupted in cheers, further cementing the emotional ties to the Ryan Express. Cuban personally congratulated Ryan and Greenberg, before slipping out the back. "It's their moment," Cuban said then.
On the way back to Dallas that night, Cuban tweeted "Go Rangers!" He later added the Ryan-Greenberg won "fair and square." Cuban probably lost a few fans through it all. Instead of considering what he would have brought to the Rangers, they saw what would have been lost without Ryan.
They also likely missed Cuban's gracious exit.
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