Since he purchased the team in 2000 Mark Cuban has been the face and voice of the Dallas Mavericks, even more so than his star forward Dirk Nowitzki. The young dot-com entrepreneur has been brash, outspoken, often controversial and a relentless self-promoter. Now, with the Mavs at the precipice of their first championship, their owner has gone silent.
Cuban represents a new breed of team owners; he’s the embodiment of every sports fan’s dream, the super-fan who became an owner. He ditched the owner’s box for a courtside seat and instead of wearing a suit he sports a skin-tight Mavs t-shirt. He used to join the team huddle at times and always celebrates on the court along with the players after a big win. When he purchased the Mavs Cuban instantly upgraded the facilities in Dallas, including adding a new state of the art locker room which was the envy of every players on every other team, and he solicits suggestions from fans about their viewing experience and the team.
The Pittsburgh native relishes the attention he’s received and was one of the first sports figures to utilize various mediums such as Twitter to promote his team, other business ventures, and of course, himself. He’s always available for interviews – often conducted while on his treadmill – and has grabbed headlines for his forays into other sports, including; attempts to buy a major league baseball team, participation in a WWE wrestling match, funding a study on the feasibility of a playoff system in college football, and working with Vince McMahon to form an MMA organization to compete with UFC. Let’s not forget his short-live stint on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”
The Mavs owner is also notorious for criticizing the officiating, drawing the ire of NBA Commissioner David Stern and receiving fines totaling close to $1.8 million. The last time the Mavs were in the finals, in 2006, against these same Miami Heat, Cuban was fined $250,000 for various comments he made about the officiating after the Mavs Game 5 loss. Earlier in that playoff run, he had to cough up $200,000 for running on the court and confronting an official during a game between the Spurs and Mavs.
So it was confounding when suddenly, without warning or explanation, the Mavs owner went silent after his team’s first round playoff series against the Portland Trailblazers in early May. He still tweets “Lets go Mavs” on game days and can be seen cheering on his team from behind the Mavs bench, but he doesn’t comment on the games or the officiating and has refused to grant any interviews over the past month and a half.
I thought surely, the impassioned owner would have something to say to his old nemesis Phil Jackson after the Mavs swept the two-time defending champions Lakers in the second round. But not a peep. I assumed he wouldn’t be able to hold back from verbally sparring with Dwyane Wade, as he had in the past, or pile on to the barrage of criticism being leveled at LeBron James. But still, not a word.
Members of the media have offered several theories to explain Cuban’s silence. Some say he concluded that the games are about the players and it’s best for his team if he remains silent. His outbursts win his players any favors; if anything, when he pisses off the officials the Mavs are less likely to get a call. Maybe he understands he understands that his outbursts aren’t necessary as a motivation tool for this veteran team and only serve as a distraction.
Another theory is that Cuban simply decided to respect his players’ wishes. Over the years, several Mavericks, including his good friend Nowitzki, have asked Cuban to control his behavior. Some writers have noted that Cuban has mellowed over the years, especially since his kids were born, though that wouldn’t explain the sudden change in behavior.
Another proposed explanation is that the Mavs owner is acting on superstition. The Mavs lost in the 2006 Finals to the Heat and have underachieved in the playoffs since. Perhaps if Cuban altered his behavior it would lead to different results. He also may have stopped speaking to the media for any number of reasons, then didn’t want to rock the boat when the Mavs kept winning.
Regardless of the reason, members of the media and bloggers like myself found Cuban’s silence perplexing and disappointing. The Mavs and Heat have plenty of star power, with at least four future Hall of Famers, and plenty of drama stemming from “The Decision” and LeBron’s recent struggles, but it lacks an engaging personality. James, Wade and Dirk don’t have the charisma of Jordan or effervescence of Magic. There’s not a quotable character like Rodman or Artest and neither coach has aired any grievances publicly.
There’s a vacuum for Cuban and his ego to fill, but he chose not to. The series has been better for it. The players have spoken with their play on the court, in what has been one of the most competitive NBA Finals in recent memory. Every game has been riveting, coming down to the final minute of play. There have been dramatic comebacks, players competing through illness and injury and last second shots by the game’s elite.
Sure, an inordinate amount of attention has been focused on LeBron’s struggles, but it’s grounded in his performance on the court. Any tantrums or snide remarks by Cuban would have detracted from the games and players themselves. Through his silence, Nowitzki finally received long overdo recognition as one of the greatest shooters in the history of the league. Role players like J.J. Barea and Udonis Haslem have been the topic of discussion for their contributions.
Some of the Mavs players have filled the vacuum with trash-talk. Jason Terry called out LeBron James after Game 3, stating that he didn’t think the Heat forward could shut him down for seven games. DeShawn Stevenson said what many of us were thinking after Miami’s Game 4 loss, that LeBron “checked out” in the fourth quarter. During Game 5 the cameras caught Shawn Marion barking in LeBron’s ear as LeBron posted him up.
The Mavs have found their swagger. They’re poised and confident, heading into Game 6 of a what has been an enthralling series. Nowitzki said in an interview on May 11th, “It should be about the players, never about the owner.” Cuban picked a great time to finally listen.