I've a complicated relationship with Mark Cuban. Which is strange, because I've never actually met the guy.
I'm not a beat writer, making his way through Dallas once or twice a year. I'm not a national columnist, paid to fly out to wherever the Big Story is. I'm not complaining, I love this gig, but I've had just about the same gig since Michael Jordan's last season with the Bulls, with varying levels of compensation.
Flying home from a meeting with the two men who gave me that first gig, in an airport in Denver, I used what was one of the first public internet stations to read that Mark Cuban had just bought the Dallas Mavericks. It was January of 2000. Donnie Walsh was actually on my flight back to Indianapolis, but struck with severe sunburn on my face after taking in a day-long cricket test match in Australia, I declined to say "hi" and ask him about Cuban.
Mark and I proceeded to talk quite a bit on ICQ over the next year or so. Email, as well, with some of the back and forth going on record at this wonderful thing called OnHoops.com. We've spoken very rarely since he went a bit nuts in 2000-01, though. With storming the court and the referee rants and things that seemed unseemly to me even then, as the world's oldest 20-year old. I still feel the same way. I don't feel as if declining to wear team logos and deciding not to blame referees for things gone wrong makes me less of a fan. I'm a haughty little princess, I know.
The respect for the guy, in pure basketball terms, never waned. Word out of Dallas, even in Cuban's first full season, had the owner poring over every avenue in search of -- as he both cynically, humbly, and passive/aggressively put it -- "exploring new revenue streams." At his most defensive, he'll come off as just another businessman trying to make two bucks after spending a buck and a half, but we all know this is a bogus front. The guy, clearly, knows his way around a boardroom. But with the Mavs? He's a fan.
Make no mistake. Because behind the excuses and the too-small t-shirts and the freeze-framing of a referee's missed call on the Jumbotron following the game, this guy is a real fan. The one that has faith. The one that believes, without getting stupid about it.
And make no mistake, beyond that. The guy's a brilliant businessman.
Because the best of those do something that moves beyond delegation. They trust, in the same way a fan trusts Dirk Nowitzki's one-footer to hit the top-right of the backboard and eventually fall in. And because Cuban earned his scars elsewhere, he knows that the best leaders let the experts do their job.
Even if Cuban thinks (or likely does) know better. You let the basketball types type it up, print it out, and hand it to you. Then you hand it to other basketball types. And there's a reason Brian Cardinal is on this basketball team. There's a reason Rick Carlisle coaches this team. There's a reason Jason Terry comes off the bench, but takes all the shots. There's a reason for that unending trust in Dirk Nowitzki. You think that's something that happened? You think it's random? Then you don't know Mark Cuban.
Same as me. But I get him. And I understand him, and I've ripped him and disagreed with him, but boy howdy do I respect the things he's done.
Or, some of the things he's done. I'd like to think that I'd have the good sense to watch my language on national TV, but I'd also like to think that at some point in my life I'll have faith enough in my decisions to let my decisions speak on their own behalf. To produce of their own accord. To both characterize and justify my actions, while I sit or stand or stand and yell or stand and stomp and yell elsewhere.
So grin away, Mark Cuban. You didn't make a shot, toss a pass, or even draft a Dirk. But you also made Sunday night possible. And nobody with half a brain should do anything less than effusively thank you for that.
- Mark Cuban