Mark Cuban’s proprietorship of the Mavericks’ franchise has more in common than you would think with the Star Wars franchise.
He started out a little like the menacing empire, the dark side of new money made the new-fashioned way – through the dot-com explosion. Not that he didn’t work hard for it. He put in tons of hours. He was smart beyond his means, as evidenced by the way he arrived in Dallas nearly four decades ago in a coupe with a rusted-out floorboard.
As proprietors go, nobody knew much about this rogue one. But he quickly started making an imprint, a lasting impression and, eventually, a legacy.
Basically, he learned how powerful the NBA force could be on his way to becoming the protector of the Mavericks’ galaxy.
And, 20 years after purchasing the Mavericks for a now-absurdly-low price of $280-million, he’s one of the most beloved and respected proprietors in all of sports, somebody who will do anything to put his team in the best position to do what all fans want: win championships.
On Jan. 4, 2000, Cuban officially completed the transaction to acquire the Mavericks from Ross Perot Jr.
Even now, Cuban admits that his young ways – while well-intended – needed polish. It wasn’t the first time he’d jumped into a business venture without really knowing what he was getting into.
“I didn’t really know anything about basketball,” Cuban said on a recent Mavericks’ road trip about his strategy once he got the team. “And I didn’t really have any connections. I’ve always just figured it out as I went. Why would this be any different? What I don’t know, I try to teach myself.”
And so, after years spent bickering with the NBA office, millions of dollars in fines donated to what he calls “the world’s biggest donut fund,” a championship, a rebuild and the arrival of the second transcendent superstar in franchise history, Cuban has reached the 20-year mark in his proprietorship.
It will not end here. Nor anywhere close to here, he said. Though he could sell for eight (maybe 10) times as much as he paid for the Mavericks, Cuban is having too much fun.
“Hopefully another hundred,” the 61-year-old Cuban said when asked how many more years he might own the Mavericks. “I figure I got a good 40 years to go (in his lifetime). I don’t have any reason to sell it at all.”
Think Jerry Jones and, maybe someday, Stephen Jones, except that Cuban has Rick Carlisle instead of Jason Garrett. And he has three kids to run the family business if that’s where fate takes them.
It’s easy to see why Cuban has become a hero among fans and other proprietors. He has fought the law. And while the law often won, he has had his victories, too. An unwillingness to conform is the essence of his philosophy. That’s why he is so popular among fans.
Think about where the Mavericks were in the 1990s, when winning seasons were more than few and far between.
They never happened.
It wasn’t that the previous proprietorship/management wasn’t qualified. They made mistakes, yes, just like all management teams do. But they had horrible luck, too.
The Mavericks had the worst record in the league – twice – by a wide margin in the ‘90s, yet never got the No. 1 pick draft pick.
Cuban has an interesting take on that, particularly when the 1992 draft happened and the Mavericks would have gotten Shaquille O’Neal with the No. 1 pick but instead got Jim Jackson with the fourth overall pick. That was the sort of bum luck that followed the franchise in the ‘90s, but Cuban knows it worked out OK for him.
“We never moved up. Not one time in 38 years,” Cuban said of the Mavericks’ rotten lottery luck. “We had the worst record how many times? And never moved up.
“Now for me that’s good luck, because I wouldn’t own the team. That’s just the NBA.”
It’s true. If the Mavericks had won the Shaquille lottery, would proprietorship have sold when they did? Not a chance.
After he acquired the Mavericks, Cuban took some hits. People said he was living off the sweat of the previous proprietorship, which had landed Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley and Steve Nash, largely because of the maneuverings of Don Nelson.
That threesome put the Mavericks on the NBA map. Cuban went to work marketing his team of young stars and trying to build a championship team. But when the salary cap got tight, he had to use the amnesty clause on Finley’s contract in 2005. The year before that, Nash left to Phoenix in free agency with nothing in return coming to Dallas and Nowitzki was left alone.
While it may have been under the radar, one of Cuban’s best acts as proprietor was recovering from that rough stretch.
When Nash left, he had to find a helper and Jason Terry was available in 2004. The Mavericks traded Antoine Walker and Tony Delk to get Terry and he would become a cornerstone of the franchise and a key component of the 2011 NBA championship team.
And while the Mavericks have always had trouble hitting it big in free agency, they have always been aggressive under Cuban when it comes to making trades, including the one that got Jason Kidd in 2008.
It took awhile, but that deal paid off big time with the championship.
That sort of risk-taking is part of why Cuban has a respect around the league – and that’s from a player who left the franchise, only to come back.
“Every player that comes through here knows it’s special to be here because of him,” said guard J.J. Barea of Cuban. “For me personally, watching him, the passion he has for this team, the way he lives it – he suffers, he enjoys it, he does it all. It’s impressive what he’s done for this town and this franchise.”
And, Barea, who started his career in Dallas in 2006, then left for Minnesota after the 2011 championship, only to return in 2014, said, Cuban’s emotions are part of his charm, even when it comes to berating referees.
“He’s all over the place, but it’s his team and I don’t mind it,” Barea said. “He’s super-passionate about it. He wants the best for us. He’s got to do what he’s got to do. I think that’s how he feels part of the game. I don’t mind it at all.”
One of the best things about Cuban is that he treats the Mavericks like his pride and joy. He vows to do things his way and try to do what’s best for the franchise, damn the consequences.
That meant damning some $2-million in fines imposed by the league office over the years, mostly by the late, great David Stern, who told Cuban that “I made you.”
Cuban, by the way, agrees 100 percent (more on that in a moment).
He also gave an interesting explanation about how the transaction to buy the Mavericks happened.
“It’s a little known fact: Mark Aguirre set it up,” Cuban said. “Mark Aguirre knew Ross Perot Jr. I didn’t know Ross Perot, and he (Aguirre) said (to Perot), this is the guy you need to talk to.
“Ross Perot took me on his helicopter, and I’m terrified of heights. It’s the last time I’ve been on a helicopter and it’s the last time I’ll ever be on a helicopter. He wanted to show me all his land. I was just trying to survive it.”
That was about the same time that Cuban and Perot consummated the deal. Cuban asked one question: “What’s the price.”
When he heard the offer, he said yes. The whole thing took less than 15 minutes.
That’s when the fun began. Cuban’s first few years were a meteoric rise behind Nowitzki and constant bickering with the NBA office about officiating and untold other issues.
“I was so excited about the whole thing,” he said. “I was just a big kid enjoying my new toy.
“That’s what I tried to do. I’ve had a lot of fun with it, through all the battles with David Stern. David made me in so many ways. He got me in. He encouraged me to raise hell and contribute to the donut fund.
“He told me last year, the last time I saw him, he said: “You know, I made you.’ I was like, You absolutely did. Nobody knew who I was until you started fining me and I started raising hell.”
And nobody doubts that he will continue doing so for the next 20 years and beyond.