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The "Maverick" owner
by Dan Wilson / March 24, 2003

Just inside this season’s Dallas Mavericks' media guide is the page devoted to owner Mark Cuban, and a purveyor is certainly struck by its’ modesty -- it contains less than 400 words. Extremely brief for basketball’s most recognizable owner. Packed in the first sentence is the power of the page: "Since Mark Cuban purchased the Dallas Mavericks on January 4, 2000, the face of the organization has changed dramatically".

The results of the ‘face change’ are two major "plums" to a NBA franchise -- winning and attendance. The Mavericks are the only team to have a probable chance to finish the regular season with 60 victories. The significance is, this is only Cuban’s second full season, and only one team in that period has won 60 -- last year’s Kings. Another interpretation is that 56 teams failed, one succeeded, and one [the Mavericks] still has a chance to reach the 60 victory plateau. Attendance figures show Dallas ranked third in the league averaging a fraction under 20,000 -- and attendance is the crucial element for a franchises’ cash-flow.

Cuban has been described as in his "mid-40’s going on 14" and the most enthusiastic, most visible, most opinionated member of the exclusive NBA inner circle -- the owners. Most of the members are of the distant specie, checking on their ‘asset’ from a skyscraping, corporate conglomerate, headquarters or viewing the playing floor from a ‘towering luxury suite’. Cuban, a self-described "beer and pretzels guy", can be found near the Dallas bench wearing a T-shirt or team jersey. With a trim mop of dark hair falling over his forehead his facial expressions reflect the current state of the game; and if a referee is nearby you can clearly feel safe wagering that Cuban is ‘downloading’ an opinion of the last call.

The product of technology’s new money, Cuban bought into the inner circle just after the millennium, glanced around the league, and started spending. The spending drew criticism because ‘perks’ were part of Dallas’s face change. But Cuban’s past business record does not reflect spendthrift behavior. Quite the opposite, they are expenditures that eventually yield mega-profits. The league was unaccustomed to wads suddenly being tossed around especially when compared to cheapskate franchise’s like Donald Sterling’s Clippers.

Cuban paid Ross Perot Jr. $280 million for the team, and also got piece of real estate -- the American Airlines Center. Originally a $220 million dollar project started between the city of Dallas and Perot three years earlier, it was being built when Cuban joined the deal. He literally grabbed the blueprints and demanded changes. Costly ones. But extras were imperative to Cubans’ style. His additions centered on the fans (the clients) and the players (the help).

To the fan’s seat, Cuban added an Internet connection -- easier to send an e-mail. Cuban’s e-mail address can easily be accessed by glancing at the massive, one-of-kind scoreboard. Dangling 35 feet above the playing floor (it could hold 75 Suburban-sized vehicles), it has 8 sides. Each side has a HDTV (high definition) screen that projects an image 400 per cent clearer than a traditional television. These clearer than life images can be downloaded and taken home. Of course, the businessman-owner had a reason for the HDTV projection -- his newest technology investment found him the owner of the only HD television network. With the network in place Cuban is only waiting for manufactures of TV’s to catch up. For those who have the newest in television, Directv’s channel 199 broadcasts Cuban’s shows.

For the women he ordered more restrooms built to eliminate lines. It’s impossible to spend money standing in line -- in and out to the concession stand. Cuban also offers females the only classroom in the NBA. It hosts NBA Basketball 101 for Women. Held in the arena, it features a compete tour and a dinner. Then the invitees are broken down into small groups for a detailed two-hour class. Cuban used his past college bartending experience to make sure the 750 kegs of beer used for home games were computer programmed to insure that a concession spigot never slows down. The 150,000 square foot roof is supported only at the building’s four corners so no fan will have an obstructed view. Since the arena is also used for hockey, concerts and other venues, a unique hydraulic retractable seating system was installed. After a circus performance is concluded the arena is re-programmed for a basketball game and the floor area and seating are totally reconfigured in a brief period. Time is money.

For the team Cuban ordered a private practice gym to be built 30 feet underground and a first-class locker room. He designed each player’s locker to include an entertainment center complete with satellite feed, and Internet access.

He installed DVD and VHS players along with a Sony PlayStation, stereo receiver, and a television. Each player was given a laptop computer.

He built a nearby state-of-the-art television control room. They continually digitize game tapes to produce CD’s. The coaching staff and players are provided with custom produced works of their own play, or an opponents’. Players state they "can look at a move a particular guy makes, or a play a team runs, by just popping a tape or disc in".

Final cost of the arena - $420 million. In Cuban’s view, going first class takes a little extra money.

Looking at the Maverick’s players, Cuban quickly grasped the details of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement. He honed in on the dreaded luxury tax. The tax is a monetary punishment for excessive player salaries above a league-wide cap program. The salary cap program was instituted in 1999 to keep a payroll balance among the 29 teams. The overall theory is to keep "rich" franchises from stockpiling ultra-talented rosters by opening their checkbooks and outspending other franchises. This has caused a behavior among teams to make fiscal decisions that have had a powerful impact on trades, and free agency.

To counter the luxury tax, Cuban spent on amenities or ‘perks’ -- expenditures to improve the players’ environment. He started with the best way to get to a player’s heart -- through the stomach. After practice, shootaround or even games, most NBA players were offered a fruit platter, or cold-cuts by their employers. Cuban promptly hired a team nutritionist, contracted with Dallas’s best restaurants, and began serving gourmet buffets.

"We have great food after practices and guys just like to sit around, hang out, play pool and talk," says center Evan Eschmeyer, who signed with the Mavericks as a free agent. "Mark set the standard for everyone else to shoot for. He wants people to know that if they come here, they will be treated well."

Besides eating, players now have a new bench. Really it is not a bench, but a group of specially-designed massage type chairs that offer back support and extra padding. In the locker room, they have individual showers along with extra plush, monogrammed $20 towels and even luxurious robes (the five star diamond resort style). The food and shower service is provided to the visiting team as well -- making it one of the favorite stops for players and an equally unpopular one for their coaches and general managers. Players around the league exchange stories about how the Mavs owner treats his "own players like kings". A full-time massage therapist is available as well as a total contemporary hydrotherapy pool.

Cuban took note shortly after buying the team the toll on the players inflicted by the NBA lifestyle of draining travel. Again food caught his immediate attention.

"Players have to work harder to overcome plane food," said Cuban,.

Dallas was using the NBA charter airplane service provided by Northwest. Cuban ordered a 757 Boeing jet complete with a weight room, and medical room. The gourmet food was specially prepared for road trips. He provided every player with the best luggage and ordered accommodations including oversized beds from the very best five star hotels.

The coaching staff was increased to 12 positions - the league’s largest. He added a statistics expert to track the league’s referees’ game performances. When he viewed the overall results, he snapped that the NBA’s supervisor of the league’s officials "couldn’t manage a Dairy Queen" and promptly drew a record fine of half a million. He inadvertently thumbed his nose at the league by paying the fine, and then matching it with an equal donation to a cancer charity.

When the Mavericks players’ contracts expire, they view the standards of the rest of the league, and so far have opted to resign with Cuban.

Here is what they say:

"I am more convinced than ever that the pieces are falling into place for us to contend for the NBA Championship. I I want in to be a part of it." -- Michael Finley

"This is the place to be. This is the team of the future. Last year, we fell short of our long-term goal. But we’re young and are going to have a large window. I feel good to be a part of it." -- Raef LaFrentz

"Why would I want to leave?" -- Eduardo Najera

Critics have accused Cuban of entering the league and trying to buy a championship. True or not, Cuban has spared no expense. And his players love it.

"He's our No. 1 fan," says star Dirk Nowitzki. "He's got our backing 100%. He's always there at practice and he flies with us to every game. He's just in there with his whole heart. It's great to have an owner like that."

Dan Wilson is a freelance writer who covers the NBA, and is currently working on a book depicting the revolution of the league since the drafting of Michael Jordan

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