Cuban missle crisis
J.P. BOX, STAFF WRITER
A recent article in the New York Times entitled
"Basketball's Troubles" discussed the reasons for the sport's dropping
attendance and general fan disinterest in recent years. During the 1998-1999
season, television viewer ship plummeted 15%. Last season, the trend continued
with another 15% slash in ratings.
Commissioner David Stern attributed the drop to other
competing media outlets as well as a severe image problem in the NBA.
For example, Allen Iverson, one of the game's most exciting and explosive
players, released a rap CD with anti-gay lyrics and later directed homosexual
slurs at a fan who was taunting him. In L.A., Kobe Bryant and Shaquielle
O'Neal continue their petulant argument over who deserves more shots,
and icons like Karl Malone complain of being voted to All-Star games.
In addition to the negative image that some of the players
have been projecting upon the league, Stern is also outraged with the
owners and general managers of certain NBA teams. For example, at the
start of the season, the NBA discovered that the Minnesota Timberwolves
and forward Joe Smith had been fraudulently operating outside the salary
cap to be more competitive. According to the NY Times, the other problem
owner is dot.com billionaire Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks who has
been fined a total of $405,000 dollars and suspended for two games.
While Stern's situation is not enviable as he must deal
with very real dilemmas, Cuban is not one of them. When he bought the
Mavs before the season, Larry Miller, owner of the Utah Jazz, referred
to the young and energetic owner as a "breath of fresh air" in a league
chalk-full of distant owners that the average fan could never relate to.
However, Stern has decided to pick Cuban as the poster boy for the ills
of basketball. When Cuban is able to escape a week without a fine, it
practically makes national headlines. The whole business began in November
when he was fined three times for a total of 45 grand, but it did not
heat up until January.
On the fifth day of the new year, the Commish levied
a whopping $250,000 dollar fine against Cuban for taunting and criticizing
officials during a Mavs game. From behind the bench, the brazen owner
stood up and shouted against what he believed was a series of poor calls
against his team. While it is easy to paint Cuban as a petulant jerk who
wouldn't shut up and control himself, he unabashedly displayed his raw
emotions and support for his team during the game. Instead of sipping
cocktails and wearing a $2000 suit in a luxury box, Cuban bridged the
gap between owners and fans because he is a person with which they can
readily emphasize. Stoicism is not his strong point - nor should it be.
His wildly energetic nature is what makes him endearing.
Only six days later, Stern handed the owner another
ridiculously punitive fine, this time for $100,000 dollars, because he
sat at the end of the bench during a game in Minneapolis. Evidently, the
presence of the owner on the bench is prohibited by the NBA, but according
to Cuban he was only trying to "watch the game and pay attention to what's
After losing $350,000 in less than a week, Cuban remarked
"If it weren't so insulting, it would be comical." Fortunately for Cuban's
pocketbook and ego, the first half of the NBA season came to a close and
he only was in $395,000 dollar hole. However, it didn't take much time
for David Stern to find what he believed sufficient cause to punish Cuban
After the Mavericks refused to drop the chalupa on February
15 against the Cavaliers, Cuban found himself on the floor during an end
of the game scrap. Mark Cuban guaranteed the fans in attendance coupons
for free chalupas from Taco Bell if his Mavs broke the 100 point barrier.
With a twenty point lead, 3 minutes left, and 98 points, the Mavericks
needed one more basket to ensure that the Reunion Arena faithful would
not go home hungry.
Perhaps knowing what was at stake, the players tightened
up and couldn't hit a bucket until Gary Trent's turn around jumper with
3.3 seconds left with the crowd chanting "cha-lu-pa!"
Wesley Person, who asserted that "This is bigger than
any chalupa," knocked Trent to the floor where a shoving match ensued.
That's when Cuban ran out of the stands and onto the floor. As he got
closer to the players and tempers calmed, he backed off and returned to
the stands. Cuban's justification? "Guys are pounding my guy's head on
the floor, what am I supposed to do?"
Stern didn't see an owner willing to sacrifice himself
for his players, but rather saw another incident where Cuban negatively
reflected the character of the NBA. He was fined $10,000 and suspended
for the next two home games. After he was informed of his recent punishment,
he stated that "These are people I care about. When something like that
happens your instinct isn't to worry what the rule book is going to say."
The important message that Cuban departs at every game,
press conference, or mess that he finds himself in is that he genuinely
does care. While other owners devote themselves to their team with equal
vigor, it is impossible not to love Cuban for wearing his emotions on
For David Stern to censor and silence the most exciting
owner in NBA history would not be a blessing for the NBA and cure its
image problem. Rather, the league will continue to be a league void of
originality and spontaneity.