Mark Cuban's money, work turned Mavericks into NBA elite

DALLAS -- When Mark Cuban purchased the Dallas Mavericks from Ross Perot Jr. on Jan. 4, 2000, the team's blueprint must have resembled something from an Etch-A-Sketch.

The lines were blurred and the only direction the Mavericks were headed was south.

Pre-Cuban, the Mavericks were the laughingstock of the NBA, having posted a 240-550 record from Jan. 1, 1990 to Dec. 31, 1999, a winning percentage of 32.9 percent.

However, Cuban saw a grand opportunity.

"I wanted to just change the culture, change the attitude and let people know that we wouldn't accept anything other than winning," Cuban said. "Some folks, when I got here, were like, 'Let's bag the rest of the season and try to get a [higher] draft pick.'

"I was like, 'No, you've got to start learning how to win immediately.' That was just the way I felt about it and we went for it. And we finished out that season pretty well, and we've been going ever since."

The Mavericks have qualified for the playoffs in each of Cuban's 12 full seasons of ownership. They begin the 2012 postseason at Oklahoma City tonight in Game 1 of the best-of-seven first-round series.

The only team with a longer current active playoff streak than the Mavericks is the San Antonio Spurs, who have been to the playoffs 15 years in a row.

The Mavericks' playoff streak doesn't give Cuban any special satisfaction.

"I really don't look back like that," he said. "I guess it shows our commitment to winning, but I don't really get any satisfaction from it. Obviously the impact on the city, just the connection the Mavs have with North Texas and fans around the world, is always satisfying. To know that we're something that families like to do together is satisfying, but in terms of wins and losses, it's just one thing that makes me happy."

Cuban admits that a lot of the Mavericks' success stems from him "absolutely" throwing money at the problem. And the problem was solved.

"And a little bit of brains," Cuban said. "But a lot of times the money led to stupid decisions, but we learned from them."

"Stupid decisions" were trades that didn't pan out, or draft picks and free-agent signees who turned into high-priced busts.

Stupid decisions or not, Cuban did enough wheeling and dealing to finally lead the Mavericks to the franchise's first NBA title last year. They defeated the Miami Heat in six games. Through it all, Cuban was the billionaire who always had his hands right in the middle of whatever the Mavericks were chasing.

From the outside, it appears as though Cuban is the meddling owner coaches and players despise.

"I think one of the universal misconceptions about Mark is that he is a guy that's overly involved, only because of his enthusiasm and his proximity to the bench," coach Rick Carlisle said. "But he has totally let me do my job.

"On average, he may have come to me once or twice a year in four years with some kind of thing that he wanted to talk about, and usually it was coming from a very positive vein."

Still, when fans see Cuban seated within earshot of the Mavericks' bench, they figure he's one of those owners who likes to micro-manage his team. Carlisle, though, offers another perspective.

"I encourage him to be close to the club. I encourage him to be in the locker room on the road. I encourage him to be in the locker room at halftime on the road," Carlisle said. "I want him to see what goes on with his team, and there's never going to be any secrets.

"That's what a partnership is. For me, this has been a great partnership, a great opportunity, and I owe Mark a lot, and I've told him that."

Dirk Nowitzki has been around for all 12 of the Mavericks' playoff trips under Cuban. Nowitzki believes the owner deserves kudos for making Mavericks basketball popular in the Metroplex again.

"I think he deserves a lot of credit for how he turned this franchise around," Nowitzki said. "We got a new plane and started staying in nice hotels."

The Mavericks have sold out 432 consecutive regular-season home games. It's a streak that started on Dec. 15, 2001, and is the longest active streak in the NBA. And it coincides with Cuban's ownership.

"That's the reason why I came here -- to get in the playoffs," guard Jason Terry said. "I had never been to a playoff series until I came to the Mavericks in '04-'05.

"[Getting to the playoffs 12 years in a row] says a lot about the organization, obviously. You've got to have the talent, but the way they run their organization is first class."

Cuban used to be a Mavericks season ticket holder and was subjected to watching a lot of bad basketball during the 1990s. When he became the team's owner, he quickly realized there was no magic formula to travel from the NBA outhouse to the penthouse.

"I just figured I'd come in here and just work my [butt] off to get smart," Cuban said. "I was fortunate with [coach Don Nelson]. I was like, 'Do whatever you want, we'll go with it. It can't be any worse.' And so it worked."

For 12 consecutive years it has worked.

"It's been a franchise now where people actually want to come to and play, unlike in the '90s," Nowitzki said. "When he took it over, he really made this a first-class organization."

Dwain Price, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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