The Man Behind The Trophy

As the final buzzer sounded and the Dallas Mavericks officially won the first NBA championship in their 31-year history, it’s hard to imagine anyone happier than Mark Cuban. After all, it didn’t come easy. But then again for Cuban, it almost never does. In his eleven years as owner of the Mavericks, Cuban has endured public battles with NBA commissioner David Stern over criticizing officials and has provided seemingly endless financial and emotional support to his team, only to see the Mavs fall in the playoffs year after year. So after lifting a self-imposed ban against speaking to the media, and with the Maverick’s players celebrating behind him in the visitors locker room at American Airlines arena, a rightfully vindicated Mark Cuban went off.

“It’s worth every bit [of adversity], it’s unbelievable”, he told reporters, “These guys are amazing. You know, because of the way that everybody doubted us and didn’t think we would get it done- it just proves that no matter what people think, it’s about what you think about yourself”.

It had been a long and tenuous road to glory for the 53 year-old billionaire entrepreneur from Pittsburgh. The son of an auto-worker, Cuban—then Chabenisky—left high school early to attend the University of Pittsburgh before ultimately graduating from Indiana University, where he also played rugby. After moving to Dallas in 1982, he soon found himself emerged in the burgeoning world of computer software, where, it turns out, he was a quick study. In 1990, Cuban had sold his own company, MicroSolutions, for $6 million and by 1999 his webcasting enterprise was bought by Yahoo! for $5.9 billion. Since then, Cuban has expanded his empire to include the cable network HDNet, Magnolia Pictures, a Gulfstream V jet, and his favourite ‘toy’ of all—the Dallas Mavericks.

When BALLnROLL’s very own Gad Elmaleh sat down with Cuban, he provided a surprisingly revealing glimpse at the man behind the Mavs. And from fixing the NBA, to dressing for success, to his Judaism and why he skipped his Bar Mitzvah, we learned that when it comes to Mark Cuban, all you have to do is ask.

BALLnROLL: So explain your fashion sense.

Mark Cuban: (laughs)

BnR: Has it ever affected a business relationship or transaction?

MC: No, I wore a suit every day for eight years, so… My business fashion sense is: you dress for your customer. If you’re writing the cheques you get to wear whatever you want, and if you’re selling you have to wear whatever the customer wants. And since I’m in charge here [with the Mavericks] I’m going to dress to be comfortable.
BnR: Basically, you can afford anything you want. What kind of guidelines or restrictions do you put upon yourself and your family in order to not become a reckless spender?

MC: I was never that way in the first place, so I don’t have to really put down any guidelines. We’re not extravagant or anything like that- I just do things the way I always have.

BnR: Do you have any big-boy toys?

MC: Well, I’ve got a plane. A plane and a basketball team (laughing).

BnR: Was I the only one who noticed the historic event recently of (King’s forward) Omri Casspi being guarded by (Net’s guard) Jordan Farmar?

MC: Oh yeah, it probably was historic.

BnR: That was unbelievable. I’d never think a Jew would be covering another Jew in the NBA…

MC: (laughing) Yeah, Jew on Jew violence.

BnR: Now that you’re older and married with kids, what does being Jewish mean to you?

MC: It’s personal. You recognize that you’re part of a long, long history. And you want that history to continue, and your family becomes a part of it.

BnR: When I was doing research, I found your relationship with your Grandfather fascinating. He, having an orthodox way of thinking and you being brought up liberal, created its fair share of bumping heads. But when it came to business, you’ve mentioned with pride, having amazing conversations with your grandfather. How did that come about?

MC: My granddad would sell clothes—clothes and shoes door to door, basically. He just taught me through guidance and experiences. He’d teach me math—We’d sit down and flip over cards and he’d make me add them up as fast as I could… Just a lot of fun stuff that gives you a head start, and there’s no question that it accelerated my ability to be a businessperson considerably.

BnR: Just glancing at our blessings, family, home, food and looking at the world today, it’s easy to see how blessed we are!

MC: No kidding.

BnR: What’s your favourite way of giving back to the world?

MC: You know, I just try to do what I think is the right thing. I almost always give donations anonymously. I don’t want to do a mitzvah (good deed) so people know I did it, I want to do it because it’s the right thing to do.

BnR: Okay, this is a segment called “My Opinion, Your Solution”. There are about a million things I love about this game. But there are three things that I don’t: I feel that the game sometimes feels soft. For example, I hate touch fouls and players expecting and wanting them to be called.

MC: You know, what? I just want the rules to be called by the book—if we want to allow more contact, just put it in the rulebook. When you don’t put things specifically by the rulebook it creates uncertainty on the part of the players and subjectivity on the part of the officials. And the less subjectivity in the game, the more it becomes a players’ game, and that’s been the golden attitude.

BnR: Which brings me to my second point: Continuation and drop-steps. It seems like 90% of the players are taking extra steps- they should either make the call or change the rule.

MC: Yeah, just make the call. If you travel, you travel. It’s pretty simple. They’ve redefined it in the rulebook now so you can take three steps, which is what most guys do now anyways. It’s when guys do a jumpstop without stopping, or take four steps—obviously that’s when you’ll see me stand up and scream. You know, where a guy puts his pivot foot down and he gets pressured, and he slides his pivot foot three feet to avoid it… Even when [the refs] miss it on us, it’s annoying. Sometimes it gets called and sometimes it doesn’t, and you never know what will happen and when. It’s just not consistent.

BnR: Except for a few players, there doesn’t seem to be as much hunger for competition—a team can lose by 25 points, then after the game they’re all high-fiving and saying “I’ll call you later”. I don’t recall Jordan or anyone like that—

MC: (interrupts) You just didn’t see it on TV. You have to remember that back in the ‘90s, ESPN was just starting to really take off. You didn’t have regional sports networks, Direct TV, or the Internet showing every video. You didn’t get to see every game and all the nuances of the game. But it was the same way. Part of it is that when you play this many games [in a season], guys just have to refocus on the next game.

BnR: Right away,

MC: Yeah, there’s a lot of games that hurt more than others. But you’re right, you have to have that attitude. There’s a lot of people who accept losing better than I do.

BnR: Okay, short answers: “If you knew then what you know today”, would you have sold Yahoo! at the time?

MC: Absolutely

BnR: Would you have done the interview with Will Leitch?

MC: Yeah (laughing)

BnR: Taught disco dancing?

MC: Yeah.

BnR: Dancing With the Stars?

MC: Yeah.

BnR: If you knew then what you know today: Football practice or Bar-Mitzvah?

MC: Football practice.

BnR: Still?

MC: (laughs) Yeah.

BnR: Thank you for your time, it’s been an honor.

MC: Thanks. It was fun.


Ronalee at 23 Aug 2011

A rolinlg stone is worth two in the bush, thanks to this article.

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