Posted Jun 13 2011 6:51AM
MIAMI -- In his moment of truth, when the crowning achievement of his 11-plus years running the Dallas Mavericks was finally realized, a famously outspoken owner chose not to be sassy, but classy.
Mark Cuban won the Larry O'Brien trophy, but he did not accept it from commissioner David Stern. He left that honor to the cowboy in the 10-gallon hat, Donald Carter, the franchise's original owner. There is nothing that Cuban ever said in the past -- and he's said a lot, with millions in fines to show for it -- that spoke louder on the most glorious night in Mavericks' history.
"Mark wanted to do it this way," said a clearly emotional Carter, who paid a $10 million expansion fee for the club in 1980. "He just wanted the trophy to go through the progression. We started it and he took it to the finish line. And with class."
As the Game 6 celebration swirled around him, Cuban had his hands full, anyway. In one arm was Jake, the other, Alyssa, with Alexis in tow. His children. Then he had a warm embrace for his extended family, his players and coaches, a bunch of blue collar types who beat a team of three stars.
And then, with nervous sweat seeping through his shirt, it was time for Cuban to finally allow himself to speak in public. Quite uncharacteristically, he had been silent since late April, a two-month self-imposed gag order that was just itching to be snapped.
His first audible word: "Yes!"
Yes. Of course.
His silence had more to do with being media-weary than anything. He didn't want to rehash a verbal feud with Phil Jackson in the second round when Dallas played the Lakers. Then in the West finals, he passed on explaining why he voted against the Sonics moving to Oklahoma City. And finally, he wouldn't share his pointed thoughts on why he was such a big critic of Miami.
"It didn't make sense to say anything," said Cuban. "And then I noticed the quieter I got, the more we won. Once we kept winning there was no reason to test the karma."
And so a man who enjoys the give-and-take and the celebrity that comes with being a sports owner shut it down. Emotionally, however, he was a mess in the final moments of the series clincher.
"When we played Miami five years ago, I remember thinking to myself that we might actually sweep this team," he said. "And all of a sudden everything went to hell. So tonight I kept telling myself that I shouldn't get excited yet. Then I said it was OK. Then I had to find Mr. Carter. He put this together."
Actually, while Carter gave birth to the Mavericks, this is Cuban's baby. Make no mistake about that. This isn't the most lucrative business he's ever had, yet in some ways, perhaps the most satisfying. Before Cuban purchased the team from Ross Perot Jr. (who bought it from Carter) the franchise was a complete mess. The Mavericks went 10 straight years missing the playoffs and hadn't won a playoff game in 12. Eight years before Cuban bought them, the Mavs won 11 games, then 13. It was one of the worst stretches in NBA history.
Cuban injected a sense of style and pizzazz. He upgraded everything about the Mavericks, even the locker rooms, and embarked on a one-man crusade to promote the heck out of the franchise. It worked, because Cuban became a lightning rod, reaping praise and also criticism for his attack on the referees, and in the process breathed life into a team on a respirator.
"I'm just so grateful the team fell in the hands of Mark," Carter said. "He has been everything I could've asked for. Mark came along with the love for the game. He's the only guy who loves basketball more than my wife."
Winning a championship for Dallas and the Mavericks was a victory for a brash billionaire who symbolizes the new breed of owner, a young (53 next month) Internet genius who goes counter to the old-boys club that defines professional sports owners. Cuban ruffled a few traditional feathers, and often delighted in doing so, since purchasing the Mavericks in 2000. But today, he's the toast of sports for beating a Miami team that became a national piņata when the Big Three was formed last summer.
Cuban took his shots at Miami, too, at one point expressing joy in the Heat's stumble at the start of the season. And then he offered a parting shot when the Heat's season ended at the hands of the Mavericks.
"I could care less about the Heat," he said, flush from victory. "That's their problem."
One of Cuban's first hires was Donnie Nelson, who swung a draft-day trade for Dirk Nowitzki, and from that point the franchise put its dreadful days far in the rearview. The Mavericks lost a heartbreaking championship series to Miami in 2006, but would not be denied this time.
"We had guys who cared about each other and were unselfish," Cuban said. "We were a team that put it all on the line. I wanted this for Dirk, for Mr. Carter, for (Jason) Kidd. I'll be around hopefully for a long time. Those guys were such an important part of this whole thing and I wanted them to be around to experience it and enjoy it."
Cuban added: "There's no quick solutions, no a single template for winning a championship. It there was, everybody would do it. We were going to be opportunistic and build a team. That's what we tried to do.
"What I've learned in 11 years is that you've just got to stay focused and believe in yourself and trust your own ability and judgment. We've come close. We've accomplished a lot. But it's nice to finally get over the hump."
Yes, indeed. And when he pole-vaulted over that hump, Cuban searched for the Kodak moment.
"Holding my kids up on the podium," he said, "kissing my son and saying 'this could be yours' and realizing how corny that was. Kissing my wife. It was cool."
Cool? That's a word commonly associated with Cuban. And now we must add another word, which Donald Carter is only happy to provide.
"Mark's been class, class, class," said the original owner. "He has been good for Dallas, good for the Mavericks. Good for basketball."
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