Mark Cuban might want us out of his locker room

Kelly Dwyer
Editor
Ball Don't Lie

My introduction to Mark Cuban, as was the case with most basketball fans, came back in January of 2000. He had just bought the Dallas Mavericks, and though he's had a wildly successful career in other fields both prior to the purchase and following, this is how us NBAniks have come to know him. He's the guy that owns the Mavs.

And via email and ICQ (because I'm that old) we chatted a few times that year. He answered some questions soon after the purchase for our website, OnHoops, and was gracious with the advice on my own burgeoning career throughout the exchange.

So it saddens me to read his latest blog post, one that makes me feel as if he's still stuck in the year 2000. Or at least angry at it.

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It appears as if Cuban is still upset with the first wave of Internet NBA journalists, guys like Chad Ford (who, I should point out, kindly and patiently employed me at his website back in 2000 and 2001) and Steve Kyler. Guys who, though Ford grew out of this and into a fantastic CBA/draft guru, made their initial mark by solely reporting on transaction rumors, no matter how absurd. While encouraging their young charges to do the same. Page views, and creating a monster click-machine, was the bottom line. Cuban didn't appreciate the nouveau Pete Vecsey approach, and I can't blame him. I like talking about the actual games.

But this post, I'm sorry, it's off. My experience tells me that Cuban is charging at a strawman. He doesn't think "Internet reporters" belong in his team's locker room, because they're asking questions bent on moving the rumor mill, and taking in page views as a result. Which sounds nice until you think for half a second and try to figure out just who the hell Cuban is talking about.

I'll let him talk. All [sic]'s are on his end:

The Internet reporters who get paid, IMHO, are to the Mavs and any sports team, the least valuable of all medi . I'm a firm believer that their interests are not only not aligned with sports teams like the Mavs, but in fact are diametrically opposed. They tend to look at the number of pageviews they get for any article as 'their ratings." More is better. Which in turn leads them to gear their work toward generating more pageviews. [...]

Internet writers will tell you, transaction rumors generate the most traffic. From a sports team perspective, this is not good. Why? Because Internet writers have so little creativity and originality. Any idiot can start a rumor, at which point the writer says (and to be fair, its not just Internet writers who ask, but its 99 percent Internet writers who publish), "I hate to ask this but the rumor is out there that you are being traded to the pismo beach panthers. Can you comment."  From that point until the trade deadline, the same question in some form is asked over and over and over again of everyone in the organization.

See, this sounds about right, so it will get quite a few people nodding their heads, but what Internet writers are you talking about, Mark? Who is coming up with rumors on their own, and not being laughed out of the building at this point? Even in a modern format with so many voices, the amount of credibility doled out has remained the same. Toss one thing against the wall, and readers and other writers will forever characterize you as "that guy who said Boozer was going to Memphis."

Are you letting Bleacher Report kids into your locker rooms? Did you know the writers at Mavs Moneyball and The Two Man Game have less interest in potential Caron Butler deals than just about anyone else in this business? Those writers are all game, unless they're making the curious habit of chatting up all your players about a Carmelo Anthony deal in the locker room and then going home to write a detailed and nuanced piece (with video) about how well Tyson Chandler hedges on a screen and roll.

I'm part of an NBA site that takes in quite a lot of page views, and if the coach of the Miami Heat mentions his team crying after a loss, it's my job to write about it. But it's always more interesting to me to talk about how a lower-rung playoff team's backup combo guard's injury might affect that team's play (quoting Rob Mahoney,  who by the way is a Mavs fan that runs a Mavs blog on Henry Abbott's TrueHoop Network while freelancing at several other fantastic sites; rarely if ever chatting up rumors).

Cuban goes on:

Have you ever watched TMZ where they catch someone walking down the street and ask questions like "are you upset about your divorce?" or "Who is better, Kobe or Babe Ruth?" You know the type of questions that make the recipient look at the person asking and either roll their eyes or wonder why that person is even there. Those are the type of questions asked in locker rooms today. They are asked not for some journalistic purpose, but as a traffic generating opportunity.

Do we really need to ask Dwight Howard and Deron Williams where they think they will be going in TWO YEARS? Do we need to ask players "are you upset about the loss?"

Again, this scans quite nicely in the "why do we need fat guys dancin' at halftime?"-manner, and it's not wrong. But if any dot-com kid dared ask Dirk Nowitzki if Kobe was better than LeBron (or vice versa) following a game, that query would be mocked to high heaven around the Twitter and blogosphere for days, and rightfully so. Every lame back and forth is documented exhaustively.

Do we need to ask Dwight and Deron about 2012? Of course not. But someone like you who seems to be quite fond of the 1999-00 season can easily remember the good year and a half of free-agent questions Grant Hill took before he went to Orlando in the summer of 2000. Or the two years' worth of questions that Vince Carter heard before he re-signed with Toronto in the summer of 2001. It doesn't make it right, but it's not unprecedented, and it's not a dot-com's fault.

From here I suppose we could argue that these sorts of questions, assuming they've actually been asked more than once, are taking away from the time and preparedness of a player readying himself for a game after sitting through a rehab session with a trainer he didn't pay for, wearing headphones he didn't pay for, lounging in a terrycloth robe he didn't pay for, eating food that he didn't pay for:

Of course rumors wont go away if a writer doesn't have access, but we can reduce the stress of a player having a mike shoved in his face and asked the same question day after day. We also don't have to legitimize the writer by giving them access to the locker room. We are better served making them the equivalent of the random "Maryslittlesportsblog.com" written by a 13 year old.

Seriously, Mark, how often is this happening? Because this seems strange and weird that so much of your team's time is spent answering questions about trade rumors. Players usually hide from reporters before games while in the trainer's room, and even the most ardent of page view-grabbers are shushed away from asking transaction questions by beat guys on deadline following the game.

The most stressed are usually the coaches, who have to deal with question after question following a team's shootaround or practice, and usually those questions are coming from newspaper reporters that, let's face it, need to update Sal from Long Island about the latest news on a potential Carmelo Anthony deal. That's their job.

Mark goes on:

Right behind trades? Negative Headline Trolls. . Talking to the Mavs Internet writers, you would think we were out of the playoff race and had lost 60 or more games. Every loss is a catastrophe of epic proportions. It is as if every other team in the league is winning every game. Only the Mavs lose games.

Now you're just complaining. Complaining that fans of your team obsess over the team they've devoted their mostly unpaid hours to. I'd be careful, here, Mark. Being a Mavs Fan For Life means being obsessed with the Mavericks, and obsession usually results in a pessimistic outlook. Forget the wins, mope endlessly over the losses.

Mark is still musing over the possible answers to his "problem," and nearly ends the post with a little insight into his line of thinking:

Unlike TV and newspaper, I have access to reach their online audience. Not only do I have access, but so does each of my players through their own Twitter and Facebook accounts. Why not just use Twitter, Facebook fan pages, Mavs.com and/or our own media platforms to communicate with online Mavs customers and fans? How many customers and prospects could we possibly be missing by losing Internet writers? And could we just spend money to reach whatever of their audience we don't currently cover?

By competing with them as an information source, can we pre empt their negativity with information that does a better job of selling the Mavs?

That's nice, Mark, but while I'd never be so arrogant to say that basketball teams need the media that exhaustively covers it, there is a reason why fans don't usually flock to the Facebook and Twitter accounts of their favorite teams and/or players.

For one, they can't write. The most cerebral and level-headed of players is still updating their status or tweeting while on some sort of smartphone (usually with a whole lot of "LOL" and "SMH") in the limited time they have between all the travel, the 82 games, the charitable appearances, and what limited practice time an NBA season allows. The onus shouldn't be on them to cover the team.

Secondly, you're not the storyteller. You're the story. And as hard as you work to try and distance whatever output you come up with on your various in-house platforms, it is still going to smack of a press release to fans.

I doubt very much, as this fantastic Dirk Nowitzki-led run keeps churning along, that any ticket sales and TV ratings are being driven down by bloggers who are obsessing too much over an expected (to everyone else) loss at the end of a long road trip. I love those sites, but that's just such a tiny sliver of your fandom that it's just not worth, well, obsessing over. That's your core, Mark. They're the ones that were hopelessly giddy when George McCloud was firing threes all night for a terrible Mavs team back in 1995-96, and they're the ones who can't sleep at night because you only beat the Timberwolves by 18, instead of 28, on your way to another 50-win season. Such is fandom.

As for trade rumors? We loathe them more than you do. At the end of the trade deadline, you get to do very cool things like try to improve the fortunes of your already very good team by using analytics, assets, and negotiating tactics that seem right up your alley. We just have to follow up on every lame rumor we hear, usually jotted down by the newspaper scribes you've carefully exempted from this rant.

A rant that, I'm sorry, seems to be trolling in the same manner that you accuse us of. Your post is going to play right to the heart of the, "yeah, you tell 'em" crowd, populist at every angle, perfect for sports talk radio. Very few readers are going to make it down to the bottom of this post, and I write for Yahoo!, with lots of hits. Many, many more will fully read and quote yours. You're definitely on PtI tonight, mate.

If goofball online scribes are bugging your players incessantly with lame-o questions, and dour team bloggers are hurting your business, then you have a right to complain. You certainly have the right to kick them out.

I just don't believe that the problem is as severe as you make it out to be. And if you want to chat about it, well, you know my ICQ number. Let's party like it's 1999.