Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Muddle-Headed, Addle-Brained and Well-Loved

Oscar Wilde once quipped that "One should never make one’s debut with a scandal. One should reserve that to give an interest to one’s old age." Well, Mark Cuban, you're a little early, but this will have to do.

So what does a Spurs-addicted hoop head make of Cuban's forays into the pratfalls of fortune? Not what you might think.

I love Mark Cuban.

Why?

To start, sheer selfishness. He's been good to the Spurs. Outside of the 2006 Western Conference semifinals (please, Manu, just foul Dirk a little harder next time), the Mavs have been a great aide to the Spurs success, especially recently.

Take for example, the muddle-headed Jason Kidd for Devin Harris trade. In one foolish maneuver, Cuban managed to turn the Spurs arch-rivals into something of a cupcake, shipping out the one Dallas player for which the Spurs had no answer. If I recall correctly, Tony Parker publicly sounded the bells of relief after that panic-induced gift basket arrived in the mail. That move alone is worth a few years of gratitude. Although, somewhat disappointingly, the trade included the "we can just trade him next February" out clause, which I imagine is in the cards.

I love Mark Cuban for his addle-brained mishandling of Avery Johnson, one of only two coaches in the league that has shown he can beat Popovich. His care of Johnson was compounded over time, and, as you know, led to his eventual termination. Many think the Mavs were poster boys of underachievement under Johnson---but don't count me in that number. Johnson's teams overachieved. They were never as good as their record.

And of course I love Mark Cuban for being at the ownership helm for the Mavericks epic choke against the Warriors in 2007--- a choke that in many ways paved the way toward a Spurs 4th championship. The Mavs were the only team that could beat the Spurs that season, and they withdrew themselves from the fight before the opening bell. I distinctly remember that I started celebrating a 4th championship during Game 7 of the Mavs-Warriors series. It was cocky and arrogant, sure, but the final three rounds of that postseason were mere formality. Too bad for the league that LeBron James was forced to play the role of human rubber stamp.

You see, Mark Cuban is the gift that keeps giving.

But my love for Cuban extends beyond the interests of the Spurs. Mark Cuban, setting all rival cheap shooting aside, has been good for the Association.

In 2001, Cuban purchased the Dallas franchise, taking it from the cellar to an eventual place in the NBA Finals. We don't talk about this as much as we should, but an owner has a dramatic effect on whether it's team will be a winner or not. See Johnson, Robert. Since taking control of the franchise, Cuban has done nothing but field playoff-caliber teams who have a better shot at winning than most. This is never a guarantee. Dallas is blessed to have Cuban.

Mark Cuban brought a number of culture-changing initiatives to his team, and through the Mavs to the NBA. People forget, that it is Don Nelson, hired by Cuban, who made smaller, faster teams fashionable again. Nelson's Mavericks teams were a kind of precursor to the 7 Seconds or Less Suns, albeit more in principle than in system. The point was to score, and often. This was a huge tidal shift from the ugly ball of the 90s practiced by the likes of Riley's Knicks.

Mark Cuban has never been afraid to challenge the NBA or its Commissioner. Often, he has done this to a fault. But as good as David Stern has been for the league, Cuban came along at a time when Stern's perspective struck me as staid. I like to think the NBA's push to alternative broadcasting streams and other such tech-savvy implementations had something to do with Cuban. Whether this is true or not, it's undeniable that Cuban has brought an outside-the-box freshness to the Board of Governors that is all boon, no bane. His voice deserves a respectful hearing.

I love Mark Cuban for cheering for his team with an almost adolescent enthusiasm. I look forward to his towel waving, jersey donning, and ref taunting fanatics. He has passions just like mine, even if for the enemy squad. But make no mistake, when Mark Cuban barks and howls from his spot and the end of the Dallas bench, he is not just shaking his pom-poms for the team, he is out in front as a cheerleader for the league.

So, yes, I'm pulling for Cuban. Thankfully, the early punditry suggests he'll be okay.

From yesterday's cycle, Henry Abbott wrote a helpful piece on the Cuban insider trading brouhaha. Reading between his lines, it's obvious the Cuban's action were more clumsy than flagitious. Citing from his exchange with Randy Shain,

So what is the penalty likely to be? Mark Cuban's going to have to write a big check. The complaint calls for "disgorgement of profits" which is government talk for giving back the money that you should not have made. With the $750,000 he reportedly made, plus some fines, my guess is that might be a million dollars.

And then this could be all done. It's a civil filing at this point. I can't imagine there will be a criminal filing, like what happened in the Martha Stewart case. That tends to only happen if there is a cover-up, which there isn't any suggestion of here.

She went to jail. He's going to be angry, and is likely going to have to pay a million dollars. But at the end of the day: So what?

What's wrong about doing what he did? In the big picture, there's nothing wrong, of course, with selling a stock that is going down.

But what the SEC, the regulators, are trying to prevent is someone making a trade that benefits them unfairly. In the NBA, you can make a trade sometimes that benefits both parties. In stocks, it's a zero sum game. If I make money on a stock transaction, somebody else loses.

When Mark Cuban found out about the PIPE financing, he apparently believed the stock would go down, and sold his stock. That didn't screw Mamma.com, and it didn't screw the SEC. It screwed the poor schlub who bought that stock from him and presumably didn't know about the PIPE. The SEC's job is to make it so that both parties at least have a shot at knowing the same things before they trade, and if the allegations are true, that's what didn't happen here.

In short, this amounts to a billionaire's peccadillo. From where I sit, this water has already passed under the bridge and down that dirty River Walk. Mark Cuban is fine by me.

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