Former Dallas Mavericks owner Donald Carter was a well-liked, notable fixture at Mavs games. The man who helped bring pro basketball to the burgeoning city in the late 1970s was often at courtside, wearing a massive white cowboy hat, grousing at or cheering for some very good Maverick teams of the mid and late 1980s. After six straight losing seasons, though, Carter sold his team to Ross Perot Jr., a quiet, less-showy owner, at least in comparison to Carter, or Perot’s chatty billionaire of a father.
Perot Jr.’s time running the Mavs didn’t see the franchise diving to the depths of the late-period Carter era, but the team still seemed miles away from the playoffs under the leadership of coach/general manager Don Nelson, and Perot Jr. was uneasy at the helm. This is where Mark Aguirre, a massive part of those great Mavericks team from the 1980s, stepped in to introduce Perot to another well-heeled superfan in the latter half of 1999, 41-year old billionaire and longtime season ticket holder Mark Cuban. From Dwain Price at the Star-Telegram:
“It might have happened later, but I actually brought it to Mark [Cuban] first because he didn’t think they were for sale because they had just been sold,” Aguirre said Saturday. “[Mavericks original owner] Don Carter had just sold them to Ross Perot [in 1996].
“That was a quick sell to be selling it again. Then when I told Mark there might be an interest in selling it, he was really overwhelmed by the fact that it might happen.”
“Even before he became the Mark Cuban, you can’t mistake him because the guy loved the Mavericks,” said Aguirre, who worked a free clinic for underprivileged kids Saturday at the Sports Authority in Plano. “Once he did all his things with Broadcast.com, we talked and I knew he loved [the team] so much that I said, ‘Would you have an interest in buying the Mavericks?’
“At that point Ross [Perot Jr.] was considering selling them, so I said Mark might be the best person to talk to, and he said he was interested. So at that point, I made sure I got the introductions right and then everything after that is history. Mark bled Mavericks and he wanted to own the team, so it was the right timing, the perfect match.”
Cuban was already a millionaire when he sold the rights to Broadcast.com to Yahoo in April of 1999, making him an instant billionaire. Cuban was also already a mouthy Mavs fan for life, but now he had the money to run his own sports organization, and excellent timing (and patience, in holding onto Nelson) as Dirk Nowitzki was just starting to find his NBA legs in his second season, and Steve Nash was finishing up his turn as being referred to mainly as “the injury-plagued Steve Nash.”
Because of the on-court improvements, especially surrounding Nash’s health, and off-court hope, the Mavericks actually finished the 1999-00 season on a 31-20 tear once Cuban took over as owner. That may not seem like much in comparison to the decade of 50-win brilliance that followed, but for a team that hadn’t made the playoffs in ten years (bottoming out with a 24-win 24-month period from 1992-94), this was significant progress. Cuban splurged and traded as much as he possibly could around the fringes over the next year, and his Mavericks not only made the playoffs in 2001, but advanced to the second round after upsetting the stalwart Utah Jazz. The championship, after years of massive regular season success, came a decade later.
All thanks to Mark Aguirre. Or, partially due to Mark Aguirre. Or, OK, it was mostly Dirk Nowitzki and crew … but thanks, Mark Aguirre.