Hoop Schemes

Mark Cuban is the rare sports-team owner who acts like a fan. Do his on-court antics merit a technical foul or the game ball?

Mark Cuban

Owner, Dallas Mavericks | April 7, 2005 | Basketball game

It's nearly game time. As a full house at the American Airlines Center in Dallas clamors for its beloved Mavericks, Mark Cuban watches from his usual spot — not near the court, but on the court. Nodding, clapping, bouncing, he helps Dallas reserves form the lane the starters will jog through. High five for star forward Dirk Nowitzki. High five for sharpshooter Michael Finley.

Cuban, 46, is not, of course, just any basketball fan. He is the Mavericks' owner. He bought a majority of the franchise and a portion of its new arena for $280 million in 2000, spending a chunk of the pile he made selling MicroSolutions and Broadcast.com amid the dotcom run-up.

He is not just any sports-team owner, either. He rarely misses a game and doesn't retreat to a skybox with the suits. He is watchdog, booster, and activist, all in one — a manager, in jeans and a sweatshirt, more hands-on than most NBA defenses.

After the opening tip-off, Cuban gives his players some space — planting himself two seats from the bench. That's still close enough to tell Nowitzki "good job" when he takes a breather — and to join the team huddle at nearly every time-out, where he listens to coach Avery Johnson more intently than some players.

Which is to say, this isn't a billionaire's lark. "It's Business 101," Cuban writes later in an email. He sees it as his responsibility to pay close attention — to the team, the coaches, the fans. He's the boss. He has to know what's going on.

At first glance, Cuban's proximity seems unnerving, but the Mavs don't seem to mind. "Having him there is better than the other way, having an owner you never see and you never get to know," forward Alan Henderson says after the game.

Indeed, Cuban is that rare boss who actually acts as if people are his most important asset (at least until he remakes the roster each year). He is an effusive and relentless supporter of his employees. Often the only person in the section standing, he sweats every possession, yelling, grimacing, jumping, pumping his fist. Since buying the team in 2000, he has racked up more than $1.34 million in fines, usually for criticizing officials.

But Cuban also has helped turn one of the league's worst franchises into one of its most successful. Since he arrived, the Mavs have gone 311-149 and become a playoff regular. The team has sold out every home game since December 2002.

Tonight, Dallas whips archrival San Antonio, 104-68. During one time-out, Cuban walks onto the court, exhorting the crowd to get into the game. Unconventional? You bet. But the boss's enthusiasm shows he cares. Leaders forever claim they're passionate about what their people do, but few demonstrate it convincingly. With Cuban, it's a slam dunk.

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