Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Mavericks Owner Cuban Blazes Odd Trail

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is known for stealing some of the spotlight from his players, racking up excessive fines and showing intense passion for the game of basketball.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Not only did his team lose, Mark Cuban was fined yesterday by the NBA $250,000 for his post-game tirade after game five. For commentator Frank Deford, though, Cuban represents a new kind of sports owner.

Mr. FRANK DEFORD (Senior Contributing Writer, Sports Illustrated): When you think about it, owner is a word that has kind of gone out. In the past, hear the word owner, we would think of the mean, fat guy who lived in the big house on the hill, who ran the mill in the company town that took advantage of widows and orphans.

But now, just about the last people we know as owners are the ones who, well, own sports franchises. You got billions of dollars, but hedge funds and oil futures don't do it for you anymore, so you buy a ball team. Now, you're an owner.

But owners come in all sorts. Some never really impose themselves on the operation. After all, it's not like buying a widget company, because sports is arcane. No matter how smart you are, how you made your money in conventional business, you have to let sports guys run sports things.

Some owners, though, think they're too smart by half, and botch things up by meddling. The Bidwill family, which has owned the football Cardinals forever, is the role model for long-term owner/operator ineptitude.

The Bidwills keep finding sucker cities to take their team in, carpet bagging from Chicago to St. Louis to Phoenix. But, whatever the address, they lose in perpetuity.

Peter Angelos bought the Baltimore Orioles, the absolute model franchise in baseball, and quickly and arrogantly turned it into a joyless, misdirected mess.

James Dolan, the New York Knicks proprietor, has somehow managed to have - at the same time - the highest payroll and the worst, most screwed-up team in the NBA. That ain't easy, folks.

Occasionally, owners become celebrities as big as their players. Still, I don't know if there's ever been quite any owner like Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks.

Cuban is a handsome, young, self-made, high-tech billionaire. And, yes, he absolutely does adore the spotlight. The owner of the Mavericks seems to attract as much attention as the players on the Mavericks. Cuban was even on David Letterman last week. He's a constant thorn in the commissioner's side, sounding off, running on the court, as he did again the other night in Miami -then sounding off some more.

Okay, sometimes he acts like a nitwit. He sits courtside, as prominently as Jack Nicholson or Spike Lee, and even kind of wanders over and eavesdrops on the Maverick time-out huddles.

Yet, for all the critics who think he's just a blow-hard and a showoff, I think most fans see that Cuban is as passionate and involved with the team he owns in all the right ways. He is engaged, but he knows how to delegate. He's having fun.

We all dream about being a big sports star. I'm not so sure that in our fantasies today, a lot of people wouldn't rather be Cuban, more even than any of his glamorous players. Mark Cuban has actually made owner a person we could love. Even if his team lost in the finals last night, he's redefined the position.

INSKEEP: Those are comments from the man who owns the franchise that we call Frank Deford: senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from his home arena, member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford