This time of year can be slow going for basketball fans, with the excitement of free agency largely behind us and more than a month to go until the season starts. Fortunately for Mavs fans, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently took some time to talk with me about being an NBA owner, how the NBA adapted to him, and more. Read on for his thoughts!
[The following transcript has been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.]
Dalton Trigg: January will mark your 18th season as owner of the Dallas Mavericks. When you first bought the team, did you envision the franchise having as much success as it has?
Mark Cuban: No. I had no clue what to expect. I just approached it like any other company of mine. I was going to bust my ass, innovate and put everyone around me in a position to succeed.
And then cross my fingers and hope for the best.
DT: It was recently reported that Leslie Alexander sold the Houston Rockets to Tilman Fertitta for $2.2 billion. Putting aside the I-45 rivalry, do you think he made a good investment? What advice would you give a brand new NBA owner?
MC: [Fertitta] got a bargain. The streaming world is going to make destination live content even more valuable. It's much harder to draw an audience over the top with unlimited choices verus TV where we are one of 200 channels.
And my advice is to trust yourself. Be yourself and have fun.
DT: You recently told me that you didn’t adapt to the NBA, the NBA adapted to you. How so?
MC: When I got here, everyone tried to make me go old school and be like everyone else. Owners were supposed to write checks, and that was it.
Teams had four coaches, no development coaches. [We] didn't market our game as entertainment, we sold basketball. [The league] didn't use technology and basically was run by David Stern top to bottom.
I tried to run the Mavs like a startup. We brought in 10 former players to help develop our players. People laughed at me. I sat next to the bench and listened into huddles. If it made sense to be in sales and management meetings and learn how people interacted, it made sense to listen in to huddles during a game and learn.
I challenged all conventional wisdom. Some people, like Jerry Buss, really supported me. Others did everything possible to get me out.
Now, none of that is new any more. It's the new old school.
DT: During an appearance on HBO's Any Given Wednesday last year, you told Bill Simmons that you wouldn't sell the Mavs for any amount of money.
For fun, let's say you decided to run for office in 2020. Would having to step away from the franchise change your perspective on selling it?
MC: No. I wouldn't sell it. I would let Donnie run it.
DT: I can only imagine how exciting it must've been to become the owner of an NBA team. But, I know you have a lot of other businesses. How are you able to keep up with all of it?
MC: I don't do meetings or phone calls unless someone is writing me a check or giving me directions on where and how to pick one up. Everything is via email or Dust Messaging.
DT: What were your initial thoughts on Dirk when you bought the Mavs? At the time, could you have imagined that he'd go on to have a Hall of Fame caliber career, passing 30,000 points?
MC: I had no idea he was that good. My only indication that he was special in that first year was that he was the only guy Nellie didn't try to trade at some point.
DT: As much as we hate to think about it, Dirk will eventually decide to call it quits. Obviously, his production as a basketball player has been valuable to you over the years, but what does Dirk mean to you as a person?
MC: He is amazing. Just a great big heart. A leader. The guy you want to hang around and have a beer with. But not to drink and play black jack with....
DT: Thinking about who becomes the next "face of the franchise," how much is determined by a player not only producing on the court, but also being active in the community? I'm sure it's no coincidence that Harrison Barnes possesses both of those qualities.
MC: You can’t anoint someone into that role. Fans accept players into that role. It's a learning process for players and fans alike.
[Barnes] is probably the most cerebral player we have had here since Steve Nash. Like Steve, he is self aware, contextually aware, smart and works his ass off to be great. HB, like Steve before him, saw his role change when he came to the Mavs and has adjusted his training — physically, skills-wise and mentally — to improve at that new role. It's not easy. But he puts everything into getting there.
DT: Lastly, a lot of people are predicting the team will win around 34 games this season. What are your expectations for the Mavericks heading into the 2017-18 season?
MC: I don't make predictions. I just want us to play harder than any team and stay healthy. Then anything is possible