It's unlikely that my children will ever ask me who Mark Cuban was, which truly is a shame. Because if they ever were to inquire, I could shoot them back this carefully rehearsed answer: Mark Cuban was the greatest thing to ever happen to the NBA, period. Always walking the fine line between astounding luck and brilliant insight, Mark Cuban has improved his team while greatly benefiting the league as well. And while most people cannot look past their own envy of the man, those who do will find a true visionary.
Part of embracing Mark Cuban involves getting past the jealousy. And there are plenty of reasons why every man should be jealous of him. You could start with the fact that God gave Mark amazing dance moves, which allowed him to give Disco lessons while a student at Indiana and thus finance a fledgling career. He may also be the only man in history to actually make money on a chain letter — over $1,000, back when that meant something to him. Or, one could jump forward a few years, when Mark was barely thirty years old, and he was somehow able to convince Yahoo! that a small, cheesy internet broadcasting company with a couple hundred employees was worth $5.7 billion. So let's face it: Mark Cuban got lucky. He worked hard, made the most of his breaks, but fortune smiled upon him big time.
But aren't there a lot of rich people who we could just as easily detest? Absolutely. Rather than think about how much money Mark Cuban has accrued, one should instead focus on what he's done with it. After making his billions, Mark Cuban decided to take a path that most tycoons somehow overlook. Typically, some man will find himself with a Scrooge-sized money bin and squander that cash on something as needless as philanthropy, the absurd art of taking hard-earned money, hiring lawyers to minimize every inkling of tax, and then giving it to the needy, just as the government would have without all of the intermediary steps. Not Mark. He decided to make a project out of something much more important than inoculations, classrooms, or potable drinking water. That project was the Dallas Mavericks — and in the process, he committed to improving not just one basketball team, but all basketball teams.
Cuban's formula for the Mavericks was brilliantly simple: take a bunch of tall, white foreigners and let them fight it out for supremacy. Thus, the majority of Cuban's tenure focused upon the titanic power struggle between Shawn Bradley, Steve Nash, and Dirk Nowitzki, the latter of whom evidently won. Mark Cuban then rode Dirk to his first ever NBA finals, a mere six years after buying the league's biggest joke. Like every other move in his career, Mark Cuban made the impossible look obvious and easy to attain. Basketball is fundamentally about getting the best single player, whether that be Michael Jordan, Shaq, Tim Duncan, or now Dirk Nowitzki. On a small court, having one superstar is better than two. Cuban had to choose between two young standouts, and though some might question his wisdom in keeping Dirk over Nash, the fact is that he made the right choice in simply picking one.
Mark Cuban also leveraged his simple-is-better philosophy and applied it where the league hurt most, in its officiating. He castigated the men in stripes while on and off the court, the former being particularly impressive since Mark Cuban is not a player. When the New York Daily News asked him how he would shape officiating in the game, he gave an answer that was elegant in its brevity: "I think the officials have the ability to do a great job in the NBA. My problem is how the organization is managed. It's no different than any other business. Wherever you work, the better your manager, the better you are able to do your job. I think everyone's heart is in the right place, we just need to get some more help in that area."
Mark didn't just talk about how simple the problem was, though, he acted. In 2002, Cuban hired a team of consultants to sit at every basketball game and keep track of the officials just as they might monitor worker productivity in any other office. The gimmick worked. Since accountability underlines every action that a professional takes, the game's officials actually tried harder, and the results were noticed later that year. According to the maverick owner, "Since the All-Star break, defensive three-second calls are way up, flagrant fouls are way up. I can assure you it's not because they are all of a sudden just happening more since the All-Star Game."
The NBA's most senior leadership also found reason to applaud Mark Cuban's contributions. While they did not approve of Mark's tactics, they did agree that his presence boosted the league's fortunes. At the height of Cuban's lobbying, David Stern made this admission: "There is no question that sometimes any owner can engage in conduct that commissioners would find less than pleasing. But I appreciate that if you're spending 110 percent of your time on your team, that's going to do two things: It's going to make your team's marketing and presence much better, and it's going to cause you to raise a few things that are going to get on a commissioner's nerves. But I think the benefit from one is worth the burden of two." In short, Mark Cuban knew what he could get away with, and he knew that the league would tolerate his mini-revolution so long as he brought in the dough. He made exactly as much noise as he could get away with. This proves a point that's critical in appreciating Mark Cuban: you may not like his tactics, but you have to respect the results that they produce.
It would be easy to say that Cuban's contributions have known no bounds: he made a joke team into a contender, proactively improved the game's officiating, and pushed marketing to the forefront of the league. But his greatest gift to basketball fans came when he changed the way that all of us watch the game — in HDTV. Few know that Mark Cuban was one of the great proponents of higher quality television. What Al Gore was to the internet, Mark Cuban was to maximizing plasma screens. While other men were content to enjoy a Mavericks game as displayed on four hundred and eighty lines of resolution, Mark Cuban said "No." He demanded a thousand of them, and the world listened. When the Hollywood Reporter questioned the benefits, Mark answered back with his now famous conclusion, "Sports, movies, documentaries -- all entertainment is better in HD, period." And he was right. Chalk another one up for Mark Cuban.
With so many accomplishments tucked under his 32-inch belt, every basketball fan has the responsibility to love Mark Cuban. Sure, some of these fans may also want to be him or at least catch the same number of huge breaks, but such materialistic desires overshadow what matters most: he has taken his wealth and done something extraordinary with it, something that we can all appreciate. He has made the NBA into a better league.