Mark Cuban stood at center court—his Metroplex-sized grin reaching the rafters of Cowboys Stadium—and read the record-breaking number that completed his All-Star fantasy.
There, at Jerry Jones' $1.15 billion hippodrome, 108,713 had congregated to watch the world's best athletes on mega high-definition TV screens that dwarfed the court and the exhibition played on it. The largest crowd ever to watch a basketball game witnessed a spectacle—the kind of fireworks only Jones and Cuban could create together.
Shakira delivered the first half of the sultry, lavish halftime show, dancing in a steel cage and alongside a drum line. Alicia Keys crooned, "No one can get in the way of how I'm feeling"—and she might as well have dedicated the chorus to the Dallas Mavericks owner.
The slam dunk contest was a dull dud, but the rest of the weekend lived up to the hype.
Cuban doesn't do subtlety.
He did something else during the break that caused a stir.
He exchanged underperforming, hobbled forward Josh Howard—a rotation fixture for much of his tenure as owner—and three others for 29-year-old Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood.
By Saturday night, analysts weren't just talking about Cuban's February grandstand. They wondered if the transaction could help the slumping Mavs challenge the L.A. Lakers.
Talking to Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley on the TNT set before the main event on Sunday, Cuban said he even hoped to see DeShawn Stevenson and his petulance crack the rotation.
The Washington Wizards dealt away Haywood and Butler in the first part of a fire sale necessitated by Gilbert Arenas' gunplay puerility.
Losers of seven of 11 games at one point this year, the Mavericks needed a spark.
Wednesday night on national television, Butler and Haywood looked impressive in their Dallas debuts. The Mavs beat the Phoenix Suns 107-97, erasing the sting of a Tuesday defeat in Oklahoma City.
Haywood scored 10 points, hauled down nine rebounds, and blocked five shots. Butler, although he shot six-of-16 from the field, scored 15 points.
Jason Kidd, however, stole the show.
His 18 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, and seven steals helped Dallas fend off Amare Stoudemire. He was the only Sun who showed up for the duration of the game.
Kidd produced a stat line worthy of framing, a near quadruple-double that ranks among the best regular season performances of his career.
He drilled a pair of three-pointers in the third quarter to help the Mavs gain separation from the Suns.
Yes, he found the "J." In the first season and half of his second stint in a Dallas uniform, he was the Mavs most accurate long-distance shooter. Better than Jason Terry, Dirk Nowitzki, and Howard.
Kidd could have participated in Saturday's three-point shootout, and he would not have been out of place.
This is what Cuban wanted in 2008. He reached into his pocket for an additional $17 million to get this Kidd.
When the Springfield-bound point guard plays with such know-how and poise, the Mavericks challenging for conference supremacy seems like less of a joke.
In running the show Wednesday, he showed the command of his position Devin Harris could not.
Harris showed a strong defensive faculty and blew by most of his competitors. His immature decision-making could not take the aging Mavs where they wanted to go.
He has not realized his potential in New Jersey, where the five-win Nets are chasing the wrong side of history.
Most have long since closed the book on this argument. Cuban was crucified for swapping a speedster seen as the future of the franchise for a geezer in his twilight.
Cuban traded half of his roster, critics said then.
Kidd proved well worth his acquisition price—and the three-year, $25 million extension the team tendered him this summer, when the Mavs needed someone to lead the victory charge against the Suns.
Nowitzki's 28 points and seven rebounds also helped.
On nights like this, Kidd's best qualities shine. He gets more high-percentage looks for Nowitzki and Terry than Harris ever did. He maximizes the offensive potential of his teammates. He now hits big shots.
In the Mavs last game before the All-Star break, Kidd registered only five assists with four turnovers in a horrifying and dispiriting 127-91 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
Then, Dallas looked and played like the league's oldest team.
Cuban had said of his team in the previous week, "We suck right now."
The team's struggles prompted another ballyhooed trade on the part of the NBA's loudest owner.
Wednesday, the other trade mattered. The deal he fought for amidst a deluge of criticism looked like a stroke of genius.
The Kidd of 2002 and 2003 resurfaced—and so did thoughts of another important month.
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