All of a sudden the guy all the Internet geeks appreciated as someone who could see around corners was thought to have gone around the bend. He was sitting behind the bench, razzing the refs, running up and down the aisles of Reunion Arena, raising the roof. He put his e-mail address on the scoreboard, urging fans to give him their input (to the tune of 400 messages a day, all answered personally).
Then came reports that his players, already members of the most pampered class of society, couldn't be pampered enough. Cuban was upgrading their luggage and their hotel accommodations, sending limos to their homes during an ice storm, offering special meals, ordering special courtside chairs for the team, equipping each locker-room cubicle with a personal stereo, flat-screen monitor, DVD player and Sony PlayStation. Cuban's first draft trio got rides home from Minneapolis in his $40 million jet.
You could say there is skepticism about the man. One NBA higher-up told a Dallas newspaper in February that the Mavs' new owner was a "loose cannon." But if criticism stings Cuban, it never shows. He is a fairly centered guy who is combative enough to go against the grain. Moreover, he's not going to curb his spending. "Oh, I'm a knucklehead," he says. "Here's what else I did that got everybody nervous: I bought towels."
Thinking back to when he came to Dallas, in 1982, selling software, one of six guys sleeping in a rowdy bachelor apartment, Cuban remembered his first taste of luxury. With a commission check of $1,500, he bought towels, plush, oversized and expensive. Now, as the owner of a basketball team, he noticed the talent was rubbing down with flimsy 49-cent NBA rags, and he remembered how that felt. He bought $20 towels, virtual velour, with the Mavs' logo on them, and hung them not only in his team's locker room but also in the visitors'.
As Cuban likes to say, the only thing that's really expensive is losing. "Everything I do is about taking away excuses," he says. "A player can't get enough sleep because he has a foam pillow? We upgrade hotels on the road."
In other words, there's a new way of doing business in Dallas, where the Mavericks were run, as even Perot would admit, as a piece of real estate.
If his spending can rankle, the passion Cuban has shown has earned him respect. "He will improve his franchise because of that enthusiasm," says Indiana Pacers president Donnie Walsh. "It's good to have an owner come in with that excitement."
Don Nelson, the Mavs' coach and G.M., is likewise open-minded about his new boss's methods. "This guy is a breath of fresh air. This is the most fun I've had in my career." And Nelson, not surprisingly, is among those who appreciate the owner's willingness to spend money, adding, "He thinks, To make money you have to spend money."
GARBAGE BAGS MIGHT BE THE MOST IMPORTANT entry in Mark Cuban's curriculum vitae: how he asked his dad, an auto upholsterer and the child of Russian-Jewish immigrants, for money to buy a pair of Pumas but wound up taking a sales route instead. Norton Cuban told the youngster that when it came to matters beyond room and board, he was on his own. "When you make your own money," Norton said, "you can do whatever you want."