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Doing his own thing

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, known for his courtside rants, insists he has changed his ways. One thing's for sure: He's not going away.

December 13, 2006|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

DALLAS — It's coming like a tidal wave. Mark Cuban is going on and on about -- whatever: the stock market, the digital revolution, NBA referees.

The Dallas Mavericks owner doesn't just talk, Cuban wages never-ending campaigns with vast scenarios and supporting data. It's like Jack Nicholson's description of being launched into space in "Terms of Endearment," playing astronaut Garrett Breedlove:

"There were countdowns when I had my doubts. I said to myself, 'You agreed to do it, you're strapped in and you're in the hands of something bigger and more powerful than yourself. So why not just lay back and enjoy the ride?' "

Nor is Cuban much interested in what anyone else thinks since he knows he's right, even if the world doesn't always capitulate right away.

Take his Mavericks, who have yet to win a title, although he knows why. Unfortunately, his suggestions about improving NBA officiating have cost him $1.45 million to date in fines levied by Commissioner David Stern.

It culminated in Cuban's $250,000 blowup as the Mavericks melted down in last spring's Finals. Stern has since captured his attention, getting his fellow owners to sign onto a code of conduct that could be known as the Cuban Rules.

Cuban has yet to be fined a penny this season, although Phoenix's Robert Sarver was hit for $25,000 for yelling at referees from his courtside seat.

Cuban insists he has seen the light, sounding like a defendant confessing in a show trial.

"I'm a disciple of David now," he says. "WWDD. What would David do? I ask myself before I do anything -- anything -- what would David do?"

Cuban used to say he could lose $20 million a season for a long time before using up his $2 billion. Now he says he's a graduate of David Stern University, where "they tell me in finance class that being in the black is very important....

"Being under the luxury tax level is important because of the impact on your partners, and I didn't realize that, but I was wrong and now I've learned."

He and Stern haven't talked since last spring, but Cuban says, "We don't have to. We have that connection now.

"You've heard of wifi? This is David-fi."

If it often seems Cuban lives in an alternative reality, there's no escaping the fact that his is the one with the fortune estimated at $1.8 billion; his NBA team; his cable network with Dan Rather running the news division; his production company that made George Clooney's "Good Night and Good Luck," and "Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room," and his Boeing 757 with the weight room and the HD TVs that he lent Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes for their wedding in Italy.

Whatever Cuban is -- brilliant, obsessive, charming, blustering -- he's not going away.

In an age of manufactured stars with bland personalities, he's bigger than life, the NBA's Al Davis or George Steinbrenner, whose mere presence creates excitement that makes up for the furor bubbling in his wake.

Anyone who doesn't like it had better get earplugs, from Stern to the media to Lakers Coach Phil Jackson (whom Cuban called "my bucket boy") and people Cuban hasn't even gotten to yet.

Revenge of the Nerd

\o7"Think about how many industries there are where people hate my guts. Basketball, movies, the sports media? I mean, hey, that's a pretty good scorecard!"

-- Cuban,

New York Magazine

Aug. 7, 2006\f7

Before Cuban bought the Mavericks, no one looked at him as if he were crazy, for long anyway.

"Not till I got to the NBA," he says. "Never. I mean, I've been pretty successful in all the business things I've done."

The self-described "short, fat kid" from Pittsburgh, "one of the Jewish kids who hang out in the library," was a millionaire at 31 and a billionaire at 40 after selling to Yahoo.

"People think was my first successful business," he said. "Not even close. I was retired before we even started People don't realize that.

"I moved to L.A., lived on the beach and took acting classes to meet good-looking women and just had fun. I kicked ass in the stock market. I mean, I was just making money hand over foot. They took my trading numbers, a bunch of guys at Goldman Sachs, and started a hedge fund that we wound up selling to a bigger hedge fund....

"So no one ever said, 'Don't do what you do.' They were like, 'What are you going to do next?' "

Securing his place as a business legend, he cashed out his Yahoo stock before it peaked above $100. It closed Tuesday at $26.75.

Ready for bigger toys, Cuban bought the moribund Mavericks, arriving late in the 1999-2000 season like a bolt of lightning.

Showing his daring, he signed Dennis Rodman, who was fresh off wrecking the Lakers the season before. Rodman promptly torpedoed the Mavericks' late drive to make the playoffs for the first time in 10 years, lasting 13 games, of which they lost nine.

It was an inauspicious start to something big. The Mavericks have won at least 50 games every season since.

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