Basketball: Dallas Strike It Rich With Cuban

04 Nov 2001 10:36 GMT

NOW Sport's Andy McKenzie catches up with the Dallas Mavericks' controversial owner Mark Cuban to discuss the team's prospects this season.

Great expectations
Celebrate: Cuban
Mark Cuban won't stop until he's achieved his latest goal, making the Dallas Mavericks championship contenders. That could be as early as this season judging by the success the team has achieved since they fell into the hands of their billionaire, new owner.

The Mavs are expected to be one of the teams to beat in the Western Conference this year. They won 53 games last season, then came from two games behind to oust the veteran Utah Jazz team from the playoffs in the deciding game.

Cuban's drive, as well as his millions, has helped the Mavs grow from one of the poorest teams in the NBA into one of the teams to beat. Whether this season will see them prove to be a legitimate threat to the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio in a highly-competitive Western Conference is open to opinion, although for once Cuban is reluctant to make any bold forecasts.

"I'm not big into prediction. If we make the playoffs, that's a start and we have a chance to do big things when we get there," he told NOW Sport. "Since I'm not the one on the court all I can do is hope things go well."

In the close season the Mavs added veteran free agents Tim Hardaway and Danny Manning. Both are expected to add much-needed experience to the Dallas squad.

New recruits: Introducing the new guys
New recruits:
Introducing the new guys
While both players have had injury problems and are heading towards the end of their careers, they'll provide some wise old heads to go alongside the Mavs' exciting young pups.
Free agents Adrian Griffin, Evan Eschmeyer, Darrick Martin and Khalid El-Amin were also brought in, while Juwan Howard arrived late last season, giving the Mavs one of the deepest rosters in the league.

As well as talent in depth, the Mavs possess one of the most diverse line-ups, with their roster boasting two Germans, a Canadian, a Chinaman, an Argentinean and a Mexican. But as far as Cuban is concerned, it isn't a deliberate ploy to sell more jerseys around the world. He's more concerned with getting results than concocting a global team.

"I just want to win. I don't care if they are from Mars, if they can play and help us win, I want 'em."

Nowitzki: German powerhouse
Nowitzki:
German powerhouse
©AP
One player who blossomed last season was German forward Dirk Nowitzki. With his all-round game, lanky frame and goofy looks, Nowitzki has attracted comparisons to Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird and Cuban is confident he's going to be around for a long time.

"The sky's the limit for Dirk. He works hard on his game and as he gets stronger he'll get better," Cuban said.

If Dirk, who averaged 21.8 points and 9.2 rebounds in his third year in the league, and the rest of the Mavs need anyone to look up to for inspiration, they need go no further than their maverick owner. Cuban is a self-made billionaire who's earned the sort of success that's normally only seen in Hollywood movies. He started his first computer company MicroSolutions from scratch back in 1983 and sold it to CompuServe in 1990, making him a millionaire by the age of 31.

He then became a pioneer in streaming audio and video over the Internet as a co-founder of Broadcast.com, initially so he and a friend could watch Indiana University basketball games. In 1998 they went public and a year later sold to Yahoo! for US$5.7 billion.

Cuban's business success is based on hard work and looking after his staff. He personally made US$2billion out of the sale to Yahoo!, but 300 of his employees were also made instant millionaires due to the stock options he'd given them.

With his money Cuban bought a 25,000-square-foot house in Dallas and a US$41m Gulf Stream V jet, which he purchased over the Internet. But his most prized new possession was the local basketball team he'd watched through thin and thinner.

"I love basketball, so to go from being a fan to an owner, was a chance I couldn't pass up," he said about his US$280m investment.

Cuban: Taking charge
Cuban: Taking charge
"Like every other Mavs fan who sat through all the losing years, I'd sit there and fume and say I could do this better."

Cuban still maintains an interest in Broadcast.com, but his sole focus is in taking the Mavs to the top. "As far as future plans, winning and having fun is all I care about."

He's certainly not given up on the Internet, despite the industry hitting something of a slump since those heady days of 1999. One of the first things Cuban did on taking over the Mavs was buy laptops for all his players.

The new American Airlines Center (where the Mavs now play) is state-of-the-art with Internet and plasma screens available to fans while they watch the game.

Cuban's presence and his non-stop marketing of the club has seen the Mavs become all the rage again. He'll have his own TV show this season, airing on Saturday nights offering an inside look at the Mavs. But Cuban has done far more than raise the Mavs' profile and snazz up the arena.

When he purchased the team they were 11-24 and heading for another trip to the lottery. Cuban's impact was immediate. The Mavs went 29-18 the rest of the campaign, including a 9-1 finish, to get back some respectability and just miss out on the playoffs.

They continued their rise last year, earning a 53-29 record and bringing an end to their decade long absence from the post-season. They even made it past the first round for the first time since the young Mavs of 1988 stretched the Lakers to seven games in the Western Conference Finals.

Finley: In the money
Finley: In the money
©Stephen Dunn
ALLSPORT
In the summer, Cuban tied the team's two emerging stars to long-term contracts. Michael Finley was signed to a seven-year deal worth the maximum US$102m, while Nowitzki was handed a six-year contract worth more than US$90m.

In fact Cuban's only bad move so far seems to have been signing wild-child Dennis Rodman less than a month after taking over the team. Rodman soon outstayed his welcome, being released after only 29 days with the Texan club. Even that brief spell proved to be a marketing success for Cuban, though he insists he brought the NBA's most famous cross-dresser in for his rebounding and toughness.

Cuban initially said he wanted to see Dallas in the playoffs within two years, they did it with time to spare. He feels it could take another three to win the title.

One thing firmly on his side is money. Cuban, one of the richest men in America, has lots of it and is not afraid to spend it in order to see his beloved Mavs successful. He's admitted he's unworried by the NBA's luxury tax, which means clubs will pay a dollar to the league for every dollar they're over the salary cap.

Cuban has made it fun to watch the Mavs again, and not just by creating a competitive team. He encourages fans to paint their faces by allowing them into games for free, he called up season ticket holders to plead with them to stick with the team and he spends much of his spare time answering emails from fans.

Cuban: Good with his head
Cuban: Good with his head
©AP
Cuban's vocal support for the Mavs from his courtside seat earned him record fines of more than US$500,000 from the league last season, including one fine for US$250,000 for verbally abusing and criticizing officials. However, this merely adds to the fans' view of him as one of their own.

Despite having more money than Oprah Winfrey and only slightly less than Donald Trump, Cuban's life remains simple. He describes a typical day as: "Answering a lot of email, working out, playing basketball and eating Vegemite sandwiches."

Cuban's recent Internet shopping sprees include bidding US$50,000 in a charity auction for a ticket next to Spike Lee for the Michael Jordan comeback show at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. He'd planned to give the ticket to a family member of one of the victims of the 11 September terrorist attacks but his offer came up some US$50,300 short.

Coming up short is not something Cuban has much experience of in recent years, which is why the fans in Dallas are happy once again.

Read more NOW articles by Andy McKenzie


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