With his Dallas Mavericks closing in on an NBA title, this could be Mark Cuban’s finest hour. Which is not a good thing, unless you don’t mind rewarding everything wrong with American sports vis-à-vis American culture since, oh, 1960 or so.
Cuban is an astute businessman and successful team owner. The Mavericks are a model NBA franchise: Under Cuban, they have made the playoffs 11 straight seasons, the players love playing in Dallas and fans love going to games there. And what’s not to love about an accessible owner who sits in a T-shirt behind the team’s bench emoting with every possession?
Before we get to the particulars, let’s look back to last summer, when Cuban was outbid in an auction for baseball’s Texas Rangers. In his blog, he talked about how commentators tried to villainize him and how they were always wrong. He wrote:
“What I have learned in 11 years in the sports business is that the dumbest guys in the room are always the media guys. Some do a decent job of reporting, most just spew opinions. And those opinions change more often than they brush their teeth. So what the media was saying was of zero impact or influence on what I was going to do. Listening to the media only increases your odds of failing at whatever you are doing. So I ignore them.”
What I have learned in 11 years in the media business is that the most narcissistic, me-first guys in the room are always Mark Cuban types. Some do a decent job of owning, but most just spew wealth. And that wealth grows every day, whether they brush their teeth or not, and they think their wealth makes them better than everyone else. So what Cuban says should have zero impact or influence on what the rest of us do. Listening to Cuban only increases your odds of becoming a jerk. So I ignore him.
To be truthful, Cuban is spot-on about sportswriters – they’re almost always off-target.
(At the moment, I realize some of you are confused. I am not a sportswriter so much as I am a sofa savant. What, you think I’m going to land a smart babe like Toni — a.k.a. She Is the One and Then Some — based on my ability to pick NFL games? No. It’s because of my irresistibly mordant persona, my inexhaustible knowledge of cheap Bordeaux and the sexy, comfortable red sectional in my living room.)
Anyway, here is Cuban’s M.O. that moves me to madness:
He travels to many Mavericks games on his Gulfstream V jet, for which he paid a reported $40 million — hefty sticker price, but it gets great gas mileage.
At Mavericks games, road or home, he sits just off the court, endlessly fanatical. He curses opposing players and berates officials. He’s picked up $1.7 million in NBA fines, mostly for publicly criticizing referees. At his core, he’s a lousy loser.
At a time when we sorely need our most powerful and wealthiest voices to lead us to a better place, Cuban often acts the part of an overgrown 8-year-old boy denied ice cream after dinner.
Now, Couch Slouch believes the games should count but that they shouldn’t matter as much as they do. Cuban is the antithesis of this: Sadly, his sensibility reflects a large part of America these days. Heck, ESPN has built its entire empire on the premise that most people think the games count and matter a lot.
Your team wins, you feel good; your team loses, you don’t feel good. End of story, or so it should be. Rather, Cuban and company have constructed a culture in which all that matters is that your team wins. This is reflected in attention we pay teenagers who can break tackles and make jump shots and the obsession we have with building new stadiums and arenas, and everything in between.
According to Forbes, Cuban is the 459th richest person in the world; Cuban figures this makes him, at a minimum, the 459th smartest person in the world. But from where I’m sitting — admittedly, on my laissez faire butt on my oh-so-cozy chesterfield — he’s not even in the top 459,000 wise men, though he is forever celebrated for his passionate devotion to sporting detail.
Somehow we have lost our minds. The important things are left neglected, and Mark Cuban walks down Main Street with a bully’s bullhorn and a bucketful of benjamins.
Q. You were a Heat hater — how do you feel now, Slouch? (Jason Feldman; Spokane, Wash.)
A. One, I wasn’t a Heat hater, I just said they wouldn’t win the NBA title. Two, did they win it yet? Because after they beat the Boston Celtics in the conference semifinals, LeBron James reacted as if he’d just tunneled his way out of Shawshank.
Q. Are you looking forward to retirement when you can sit on the couch all day and watch TV? (Dan Cantwell; Albany, N.Y.)
A. Somehow, I sense that you are mocking me.
Q. Since Washington Redskins management is unwilling to change their name in order to become non-offensive to Native Americans, couldn’t they simply switch their logo to a potato? (Duane Mathias; Parma, Ohio)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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