Outgoing NBA commissioner David Stern acknowledged in a recent interview that will air tonight that it was his powerful influence which led to Mark Cuban eventually becoming the owner of the Dallas Mavericks.
In an interview with Turner Sports’ Ernie Johnson that will air tonight at 6 CST on NBA-TV, Stern said Cuban started being Cuban even before the sale of the Mavericks from Ross Perot Jr. to Cuban was finalized on Jan. 4, 2000, and that the deal came extremely close to falling through. However, Stern said he stepped in and persuaded the NBA Board of Governors to vote to approve Cuban's ownership.
“When Mark bought the team, and it was under contract, he started being Mark before he’d closed,’’ Stern told Johnson in an excerpt which aired late Thursday night on TNT. “We had a very difficult meeting where there was an approval that was sought and the vote of the two combined committees that were going to pass on it was surprisingly close.
“If that vote was reported out to the board, he would not have been approved. And I said, ‘You know guys, that’s why you pay me the big bucks. So I think he’ll be OK and I think we should make the vote as close to unanimous as we can,’ and they said OK.’’
Stern admits if he had just sat tight and not made any comments to the board, “he doesn’t get it’’ – as in Cuban would not have been the Mavericks’ owner.
“And I think we would have been the poorer for it, interestingly enough, despite all of his machinations and expertise -- real or imagine,’’ Stern said. “But the other owners, 'Oh, hey David, he’s your guy.’
“They never miss the opportunity to remind me. But I say, ‘Hey guys, so what? Enjoy it.’ So when you ask me if I get angry, I brought it all on myself and I’m glad I did.’’
Stern is retiring tonight at midnight after 30 years as the NBA's commissioner and will be replaced by Adam Silver. Tonight's TV show, titled David Stern: 30 Years, will review Stern's life on the job of a league that was depicted to have a drug problem when he took over, but is now considered one of the more vibrant leagues in professional sports.
As far as Stern and Cuban go, earlier this month Stern fined Cuban $100,000 for, among other things, derogatory comments he said to the officiating crew following the Mavericks’ 129-127 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 15. When asked by Johnson if Cuban knew what buttons to push to get him upset, Stern said:
“He knew what button to push to get himself fined. Last week we whacked him for $100,000. He was asking for it.
“And now he’s saying, ‘Well, wait until I get a hold of Adam.’ OK, and Adam will whack him. So what? OK.’’
Stern has “whacked’’ Cuban for nearly $2 million in fines over the past 14-plus seasons.
“And as I said to him the Muffin Fund is being depleted,’’ Stern said. “I want to quickly add all of the fine money is dispersed to charities of ours, and if he wants to add to it, that’s fine.
“But he has to be penalized because the other owners used to write me notes: ‘David, he is questioning your invincibility, OK.’”
About 5 minutes of tonight’s hour-long farewell show to Stern is spent discussing Cuban. Stern talked about what it’s like to deal with newbreed owners such as Cuban, who doesn’t mind speaking his mind.
“I don’t want to hurt Mark’s feelings by indicating that he’s not that much of a problem because he would consider that to be a failure on his part,’’ Stern said. “But let me say the following: “One of the first early owners that I had to deal with was a gentleman by the name of Ted Turner. He was a bit of a maverick. He was imaginative. ... he would break things just for kicks, he was visionary, he was difficult, he was bombastic, he was great. And he’s a friend.’’
Stern and Cuban, indeed, have had their many clashes over the years. But as a whole, Stern said: “I would say to you that Mark is a friend. He has his own way. And in the case of Mark I am a foil and have been a foil, and gladly so, because actually we’re friends.
“I have leaned on him for advice. There are lots of things he doesn’t agree with what I’ve done, and I tell him, ‘Thank you, have a nice day, we’re going to do what we deem to be in the best interest of 30 teams, not any one team.’ But he’s very intelligent.’’