ALISON STEWART, host.
This is Talk of the Nation, I'm Alison Stewart in Washington in for Neal Conan. Here are the headlines for some of the stories we're following today here at NPR News. Detroit Auto executives make their pitch for emergency financial aid at a Senate hearing today. GM, Ford and Chrysler say need about $25 billion in loans. Many Republicans are opposed, and it does not look like the industry has enough votes to get a bailout approved. And residents of a fire-ravaged Mobile Home Park in one of Los Angeles suburb are being allowed to return home today. Many suffered heavy losses but they are the lucky ones. About 500 of the 600 mobile homes there were incinerated. You can hear the details on those stories and much more coming up on All Things Considered. Tomorrow on Talk of the Nation our political junkie Ken Rudin will be here. We'll talk about where Joe Lieberman stands with Democrats, Hillary Clinton's chances to become Secretary of State and the rest of the week's political news.
But right now Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks is a billionaire and a character. Creditor were turning his team around, Cuban is regularly fined for spending his much time in the court to some players shouting down referees. But this time, he isn't in trouble with the NBA. It's the SEC, the Securities and Exchange Commission. Based on an eight-minute and 35 second phone call placed on June 28th, 2004, the SEC alleges Cuban is guilty of insider trading. They filed the civil suit in the District Court in Dallas. Through his attorneys, Cuban says the case has quote, no merit. Today we're going to take a look at the man behind the Mavericks and get the real stats on Mark Cuban. Dave Zirin is a sports writer from the Nation Magazine and author of "A People's History of Sports in the United States" and he is sitting across to me in studio 3A.
Mr. DAVE ZIRIN (Sports Writer, Nation Magazine; Author, "A People's History of Sports in the United States"): Hey, great to be here, Alison.
STEWART: I want people to be able to join the conversation. If you have a question for Dave about Mark Cuban, not about this case but about Cuban the guy, give us a call. Our number here is Washington is 800-989-8255. You can also send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. So Mark Cuban is what a lot of people call a self-made billionaire. Tell us how did he make all his money?
Mr. ZIRIN: That's a great question. I mean, he was called by USA Today the luckiest man from the dotcom era. I mean he made $1.8 billion through a combination of his love of sports and also getting out of the dotcoms before they went dotbomb.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ZIRIN: I mean he was somebody who figured out the technology to be able to get people through their computers, something that seems very pedestrian now, through their computer to be able to hear games. You know something a lot of people do, I know when I'm on the road and I want to hear a game, you know, you do live streaming of the games to your computer. But hey, someone had to be the person that come up with that, and then someone had to sell before the technology got reproduced enough so it was worthless, and that was really Mark Cuban. And so Mark Cuban in a lot of ways living out you can argue a kind of male fantasy. And that he's somebody who comes from working-class family. He got in early on the dotcom industry. He made $1.8 billion, he cashed out, and he bought a team and he's decided to become Mr. Super Fan. And it's so interesting because think about it like the Simpsons, most pro sports owners are Montgomery Burns. I mean they're old as Methuselah and STEWART: Smithers?
Mr. ZIRIN: Yeah Smithers, yes. Look at them Smithers. You know that's most pro-sports owners. Mark Cuban is Homer Simpson. He's Homer Simpson if Homer owns a team.
Mr. ZIRIN: With everything that you could imagine being polarizing that would go with that.
STEWART: So Cuban, let's roll back a little bit. So he was able to sell various web entities for a lot of work, actually still buying them for a lot of money.
Mr. ZIRIN: Hmm. Yeah, they sold their company broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.04 billion which is interesting because it's a ridiculous sum for a company at the time was earning a $100 million in revenue. And this is in a lot of ways our current economic crisis is built up because of you have this gap between real wealth and then assumed wealth, the stock market wealth, whether you're talking about real estate holdings or whether you're talking about internet entities. Well, Cuban was one of the people you got to give him a credit for this, who actually got out when the getting was good.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ZIRIN: And because he got out, he's decided to live the life that as a working class kid from Pittsburgh with Coke bottled glasses - I'm nothing against glasses, Alison. I noticed you have to be spectacle at the set yourself.
STEWART: I do.
Mr. ZIRIN: It's something that he's decided to do. And he is derided in some circles without questioned for being - for lack of editor and kind of like a jock follower, somebody who worships his athletes in a way that's unseemly. But when you talk to players themselves and this is something I do as a sportswriter, there is tremendous respect for Cuban because it's very rare that an owner actually has the kind of impact on the psychology of a franchise that Cuban had on the Mavericks. And the decade before he was there, they went 199 in 507. The laughing stock of the National Basketball Association and it wasn't just the Cuban went in there and got the big money players because that's not what he did.
What he did was he made the players excited to come to work. I mean, the joke is - it's the fluffy robe theory of ownership because the joke is that all the Maverick's players have the finest robes that you could possibly imagine and there's this a sort of, you know, sowing circle pipeline among NBA players where they tell each other over their own little own taffy clutches, you know, the robes we have in Dallas are just spectacular. And so then, the players, they say oh, well maybe I should sign with Dallas.
STEWART: So treat people like winners, and they'll be winners?
Mr. ZIRIN: Yes and put some money behind it as well including having little flat screen plasma TV, Xbox consoles in every locker room.
Mr. ZIRIN: Hey.
STEWART: Good to work from our Cuban, it's sounds fine.
Mr. ZIRIN: I'm telling you.
STEWART: You're into that.
Mr. ZIRIN: I'm telling you, but some people like you know, like the Washington Post owner Tony Kornheiser, he calls him a preening schmo and other people swear by him and that's the thing about Mark Cuban is that he's a very polarizing figure and that's why I can't imagine anybody else, any other owner in sports if they were caught up in a $700,000 insider trading inbrolio(ph) that it would generate the kind of coverage that this would generate and I certainly can't imagine another owner going to war over his or her - on his or her blog over the intent of the federal government in trying to indict him.
STEWART: We should point this out that - and this also speaks to Mark Cuban knowing the Internet. When you type in his name into Google, his blog comes up first even when the news around him, he gets the first click.
Mr. ZIRIN: Oh, I'll tell you one. When I was first starting out as a sportswriter, one of the first things I did was zap him an email saying, hey, could I interview you? I thought what the heck. Within a couple hours I got an email back saying, sorry I'm too busy but thanks for sending me an email and I was just thinking to myself, whoa, that's pretty cool, in and of itself. And I'll tell you another reason - his blog also got him in the news recently and this is another reason why his players swear by him. You may have heard that one of his players, all-star Josh Howard made a lot of negative news about a month back, where he was caught on someone's cell phone camera speaking in a disparaging tone about the National Anthem.
And the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban's blog, the maverick site in particular were flooded with emails that were not only racist but they were also threatening, and also in a very bizarre way, have these correlations about Barack Obama. This is before the election. It was like those N words like Josh Howard and Barack Obama, they don't love our country like crazy stuff. And we've been doing response. He just posted all the emails on his blog with the return addresses of the people who sent him the emails. And that was something else, I'll tell you. They got some respect from people particularly from his players who said, you know what? Mark Cuban, he has our back.
STEWART: All right, I want to go to a caller. Has a question for you about Mark Cuban. This is Joe from Chicago. Joe, what's your question?
JOE (Caller): Hey, guys. How are you today?
STEWART: Doing great.
JOE: Well, my question, being from Chicago, I'm sure - I'm sure you can guess where I'm heading with this.
Mr. ZIRIN: I think so.
JOE: You know, talk around here in the summer was Cuban was in the game for the Cubs ownership. I believe that's been dispelled as now, I'm not quite sure where it's at. Just wanted to know if this was essentially the death nail in not only the Cubs' deal but also Cuban's future prospects maybe in getting to the major league baseball game and I can take my response off the air.
STEWART: All right, Joe. Thanks a lot.
Mr. ZIRIN: Terrific question. I'll tell you something, the death nail for Cuban fulfilling one of his childhood dreams in buying the Cubs, that was going to happen even before this took place. He was not going to be approved to buy the team and he - despite the fact that he had given by far the biggest offer to buy the team.
STEWART: Why wasn't he going to get it?
Mr. ZIRIN: Because major league baseball unlike the National Football League, I mean it is quite the cloistered club. I mean, we're talking exclusive type of situation here. We're talking a country club kind of scenario that only the best need apply and bloodlines actually count for something and this is where you do get to that question of (unintelligible) who wears t-shirts to games, who doesn't play by the rules and they look at Mark Cuban, baseball owners and they'd say, uh, I don't want this guy anywhere near. He might steal the silverware in one of our fancy dinners. I mean, that's - it's kind of like a Rodney danger field back to school kind of thing where it's like, oh no, the slob is coming to ruin everything. But I'll tell you something.
If you're a Chicago fan, you wouldn't want somebody like Mark Cuban owning your team because he would be the sort of person who would not give a hoot about curses, about any of the horrible mass psychology that exists in the city of Chicago that turns players and managers just tighter than drums come playoff time because they're so freaked out at being yet another year of the great curse that stands over that city. I think Mark Cuban would be the equivalent of someone like Pedro Martinez when he went to the Red Sox and he was asked about the curse of Babe Ruth that was preventing the Red Sox from winning the World Series, and he said that if - hey, if I had to face against Babe Ruth, I'd flunk him right in the tush with a fast ball. You know, that kind of attitude is what you kind of need sometimes to break off the mass psychology that exists in the game like baseball. So, but yeah, Mark Cuban is not going to own the Cubs.
STEWART: We're talking to Dave Zirin, sportswriter for the Nation magazine about Mark Cuban, the man. Making news today because the SEC has brought down a civil - brought down civil charges against Cuban a little insider trading case that his - says, his lawyer say on his website that has no merit. It's kind of ironic in a way because what he is alleged to have done is sold just a massive amount of shares in a website.
Mr. ZIRIN: Yeah.
STEWART: Momma.com, a search engine after he allegedly received news - private news and supposedly if you read the indictment, you can click through, you can find it online, read the whole thing, which is sort of ironic since he made his money on the Internet in the first place. But he is involved in a whole bunch of other things, well, hdnet?
Mr. ZIRIN: m hmm.
STEWART: Is that correct, what else?
Mr. ZIRIN: Yeah, that's right.
STEWART: It's in his portfolio.
Mr. ZIRIN: That's right, hdnet is a big thing and just the whole idea of high def television was something that he was an early person singing the praises of - but I'll tell you something else about Cuban that a lot of people don't know is that he is also a film producer. And he's put his money behind several documentaries that you would have to describe as populist or you'd have to describe as mock racking which is another thing that is not in step with ownership culture in sports. I mean, he is the person who put the money behind "Goodnight and Good Luck," the Oscar-winning film that George Clooney directed about McCarthyism and the conflicts with Edward Almuro(ph). He put the money behind the smartest guys in the room, the "Enron" documentary. He put his money behind a - actually a pretty intense documentary called, "The War Within" which is about suicide bombers - and attempted to look at the internal life of suicide bombers. So, this is somebody who, you know, typical - just like he'll run out under the court. He's not somebody who shies away from controversy when it comes to the money he puts behind his films as well.
STEWART: He also owns the Landmark Theater chain but we have a caller, Eric from Orangeberg, South Carolina who doesn't have another question about his business. Hi, Eric.
ERIC (Caller): Hello.
STEWART: Hey. So what's your question about Mark Cuban?
ERIC: How did Vroom work out for him and also do you make - do people make money owning a professional franchise and I'll take my answer off the air.
Mr. ZIRIN: Mm. I didn't hear the first part of the question.
STEWART: Vroom, about a satellite service?
Mr. ZIRIN: Oh, the Vroom. Yeah, I don't know a great deal about Vroom. Not an expert on Vroom. But - also do people make money off of professional sports franchises? Well, what's interesting is because of the web of anti-trust degree means it's actually difficult to know how much - I mean depending on the sport and depending where teams are with regards to their collective bargaining agreements, it is impossible to know whether teams actually make money or lose money. The thing about Mark Cuban and I don't mean to sound like a big Mark Cuban booster, I'm actually talking more objective fact rather than my own subjective opinion about the man. But he is somebody who spends money as if he doesn't care whether he makes money when it comes to his team.
And once again, that is something that endears a lot of his players toward him. A lot of people say, well, wait a minute, you can't treat players that well because then they won't work hard enough and they point to Dallas' fame-outs in the playoffs the last two years is evident. But if you ask the players themselves, they say, you know what? It's an 82 game season, you're away from your family, it's a harder life than people know and it's nice to have some fluffy robes.
STEWART: We're talking to Dave Zirin, sportswriter for the Nation magazine. And in the news today, Maverick's owner Mark Cuban. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News, I'm Alison Stewart joined by Dave Zirin, sportswriter for the Nation magazine and we're talking about Mark Cuban who's in the news today because he has been charged with insider trading, multiple case. He's been charged by the SEC and a couple of things about Mark Cuban. One, he was on "Dancing With The Stars." Can I just bring that up?
Mr. ZIRIN: You can. I mean, we should just talk about it on the radio. If people actually saw a clip of it, they may reach for a scalpel and go after their own eyes.
STEWART: Why do something like that? That's just part of his personality?
Mr. ZIRIN: That's what I'm saying. I mean, the way I'm describing him is somebody, oh he supports his players, he comes from a working class background. One might think, oh, this guy must be some kind of hero. Why would anybody not like this guy but the "Dancing With The Stars" example is exactly why he rubs people the wrong way. Why Tony Konheizer would call him a preening schmo repeatedly and I mean, Rick Morrisey of the Chicago Tribune, he once wrote of Cuban. It's OK to be vapid as long as you're loud. That's what Cuban proves and there's that aspect of his personality that really does rub some people the wrong way.
STEWART: Well, I got to tell you, Paul from Galveston, he's kind of - he's on Cuban side. Hi, Paul.
PAUL (Caller): Hi. How are you?
STEWART: I'm doing well. You've met Mr. Cuban.
PAUL: I have. I'm from Galveston, Texas. I moved here from Florida and I was on the sidelines at an NBA game and Mr. Cuban came by and I said how are you? And he said, well I'm doing well. And he was really personable with me and I got into it with him a little bit. I asked him about NBA referees and that their fairness and he said, you know what? They do their jobs and I said, well you know, you haven't always said that to me and to tell their folks and he said, well, you know, I think that - I think it's a tough job and they're active. Of course, that night, his team won but I wondered what your best set about - have to say about different things surrounding Mr. Cuban's use on basketball referees.
STEWART: All right. Well, thanks for calling.
Mr. ZIRIN: Thanks, Paul. Thanks for calling from Galveston, Texas. Birth place of Jack Johnson. First African-American heavyweight champion. Not the insipid folk singer.
(Soundbite of laughter)
STEWART: I know where you're going with that.
Mr. ZIRIN: So to go about Cuban in wraps. This is another thing. Once again, we keep going back to this point of polarization when we talk about Mark Cuban. Mark Cuban is somebody - the only owner who I can think of who has regularly stood up with David - to David Stearn, he was the most powerful commissioner in professional sports. The commissioner of the National Basketball Association and one of the points where Cuban has been a consistent voice over the years has been the question of NBA referees and the man has been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years for his criticisms of the refs.
And when you think about this past year, the NBA was almost (unintelligible) by a refereeing scandal involving a former referee Tim Donahey and the possibility that there were a fixed NBA games and were other refs involved? It seems like that scandal has been well contained and just Donahey alone, the person who takes the fall. But I'll tell you something, it does make Cuban once again, look somewhat prophetic because the thing that Cuban would speak about would be the absence of oversight. And that's one thing about NBA referees is that there is no oversight.
STEWART: Just a few seconds left. Knowing what you know about Mark Cuban, he's going to fight this charges?
Mr. ZIRIN: He will fight them to the gates of hell. You better believe it.
STEWART: Dave Zirin is a sportswriter for the Nation magazine and author of "A People's History of Sports in the United States". He joined us from our studio here in Washington. Thanks for being with us.
Mr. ZIRIN: Oh, my privilege, Alison. Thank you.
STEWART: This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Alison Stewart in Washington.