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From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, November 6, 2000
THERE IS A SATISFYING DISHEVELMENT TO HIM, AS IF TO confirm the happenstance of success. As if to say: He's no more groomed for moguldom than you. Which is really to say, You could be a billionaire too.
Probably you couldn't, or there'd be more than 300 billionaires in the U.S., but watching Mark Cuban operate, looking rumpled and a little disorganized, offers hope. He doesn't usually keep notes on Post-it pads, he says, looking at the butterscotch checkerboard that just developed on his desk, but things got a little fast and furious for a couple of minutes, with a three-team deal turning into a four-team deal, all to bring a backup guard named Howard Eisley to the Mavericks. Plus, MJ had just called, and, well, let's see you keep your composure with MJ on the phone.
But forgive him that little failure of office management and you still have the kind of mess that looks reassuringly familiar to us thousandaires. Sitting in his office, the only fully (or even partially) furnished room in his 24,000-square-foot Dallas mansion, Cuban seems awash in his disorder. At ease with it, really. A computer is in a corner, cracked open when he became curious about its innards. A lucky jersey—DALLAS 1—is draped over his chair. There are pictures on his desk from a recent weekend barbecue at his home (which, admittedly, featured John Mellencamp as the entertainment), fellow 40-year-olds mugging like frat brothers. The overall effect is a dorm-room ambience.
Suddenly MJ [then part owner of the Wizards] is back on the phone. Mark Cuban, who spent his formative years behind Coke-bottle eyeglasses and silver-capped teeth, who was part of a clique in his Pittsburgh high school ("Jewish kids who hang out in the library," he says), who sold powdered milk door-to-door ("the next great growth business, so I thought")—Mark Cuban straightens in his chair, his hands grabbing for the Post-it notes. "MJ!" he exclaims.
Who is to say that, given some stroke of luck or extraordinary effort, this couldn't happen to you, that you couldn't be sitting at your desk, overseeing the rehabilitation of a floundering NBA franchise that you recently bought for $280 million, and Michael Jordan is on the horn? "Thanks for calling back," Cuban says. "Here's what I'd like to do...."
CUBAN MADE HIS MONEY WHEN BROADCAST.COM went public and Yahoo! bought it for $5.7 billion. What did he do with his share? He bought the Mavericks, a pretty bad basketball team but a pro sports franchise all the same. "I'm a kid at heart," he says.
Since taking over the team from Ross Perot Jr. last January, Cuban, still boyish looking at 42, has been indulging every kid's dream, wheeling and dealing and generally behaving like a fan who won an Owner for a Day contest.
That he paid $280 million for an outfit—"This close to being the Clippers," he admits—that had been founded with an initial investment of only $13 million in 1980 (and valued at $125 million when Perot bought it in 1996) does not suggest a man much interested in remaining a billionaire.