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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cuban: All Dollars, no Sense - Redux

NEW YORK, June 21, 2012 -- The story won't quit, it won't go away.

Just this week, the powers that be in world basketball, minus any comments or input from FIBA, the international governing body for the sport, spoke about changing the landscape of the two biggest international tournaments in the sport, the men's basketball competition at the Olympic Games and the FIBA World Championship of Basketball.

Of course, the "powers that be" were the voices of NBA Commissioner David Stern and Dallas Mavericks team owner Mark Cuban.  In a nutshell, Stern key-noted to the assembled scribes, hacks and TV types at the NBA Finals that the NBA was planning to meet with FIBA's head-honcho, Patrick Baumann, to discuss limiting eligibility in the future Olympic competitions to players 23 years of age and under, following a concept employed by FIFA, the governing body for football or soccer, as it is known in one small spot on the map.

Instead, the NBA and FIBA would work together to put more emphasis on a new "World Cup" of Basketball where all players, any age and any level, would be eligible to play for their countries.  Soon after the news broke, Yahoo Sports ran a column that the impetus of such a move was a financial windfall to be "shared" by both the NBA and FIBA, coming at a loss to the organizers of the Olympic Games and their many TV partners and future organizing committees.

Cuban told Yahoo Sports, ""The question is: Why would we partner with a current tournament rather than start our own?" Cuban said. "If done correctly, it can be NBA-owned and operated and have the potential to be just as large as the World Cup of soccer. That is a product, in my opinion, we want to own, not share. I don’t know what the NBA plan is, but the above is what I will be pushing for.

 "I do know that USA Basketball should have no say in the matter," Cuban stressed to a prominent Yahoo columnist. "It’s completely separate from the NBA. They are a different financial entity. They would just be another country that could play in our tournament. Just like FIFA does the World Cup, the NBA could do a global tournament. There’s no more reason to deal with USA Basketball than there is to work with the Peruvian Basketball or Kazakhstan Basketball Committee."


The story reminded me of a blog I wrote in January which I've updated (slightly) and have re-posted with this missive.


I love reading the opinions put forth by Mark Cuban.  He plays the NBA media like a fiddle.  He plays his loyal Mavericks fan-base like the pied piper of propaganda.  He purports to have deep basketball knowledge from his days as a student with a nose pressed p against the gym at Indiana and years of holding seasons tickets at Dallas which was long before he timed the market and the boom and cashed in his lottery ticket, then called, for billions in Yahoo's stock.

Congratulations and may God bless him for that stroke of business genius and his timing.  Aside from Bill Gates, Cuban made the play of our lifetime by identifying an opportunity, grabbing online broadcast rights before many realized their value, timing the Internet boom, selling and cashing in.

Ever since his found fortune and the purchase of one of the three NBA teams in Texas, Cuban loves to speak from his pulpit as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks.  Very few businesses in this world other than pro sports have more media assigned as beat writers or broadcasters, all needing to file reports on a daily basis.  The NFL and Baseball have legions of such media that even outnumber those who cover the White House and the NBA is not far behind. The basketball media feed off Cuban the way the New York tabloid media feed off Donald Trump.  Meanwhile, most executives in the 'real' business world avoid the headlines like the plague, except when The Wall Street Journal might talk-up  their favorable quarterly reports.

Cuban takes full advantage of his position and loves to control his interviews by limiting most of them to e-mail exchanges.  He rarely gives interviews in person, except for his "availability" while riding a stationary bike prior to most Mavericks home games, and that is his right.  However, as we all know, much is lost in electronic transmission and translation or the lack of candor in group interviews gathered around a bike workout, may Edward R. Murrow not do a cartwheel in his grave.  I believe Cuban doesn't care about that very much, as he looks at the media as pawns in his chess game and his emailed quotes to national media outlets are the messages that end up in print because the reporters have little chance to challenge him and they dare not misquote him or they will be mocked in his webblog, aptly entitled, Blog Maverick.

Just like ESPN's Sports Guy blogger, Bill Simmons, Cuban walks like a fan, talks like a fan, writes like a fan, dresses like a fan, screams at refs like a fan and he relates with the fans like no owner in team sports before him. His popularity soared because of his fan-like antics when he bought the Mavericks, a team that had nowhere to go but up. Fans adored the fact he was accessible (by email), was outspoken, sat by the team, shot with the team, spent money on the team and was truly living a dream.  What fan in the world hasn't dreamed of hitting the lottery and owning his local team?

He doubled his popularity when he began his tete-a-tete with NBA Commissioner David Stern and attacked the Achilles heel of every sports league - officiating.  Then a rookie owner, Cuban kept harping to the press and the public about the NBA's officiating woes and the NBA responded with fine after fine after fine, totally some $1 million.  Cuban kept pressing and claiming that every fine was well worth the money.  He found the many hot-buttons for the league and he kept pressing them, time after time, which fueled his ego as it did his growing global popularity while only draining some $250,000 a pop.

Aside from officiating, Cuban's other constant gripe has been about the fact that the NBA and its Players Association allow the NBA players to participate in the Olympic Games and the World Championship (and sometimes other international competitions, like the various qualifying tournaments, Asian Games, etc.).  Cuban's stock quote to media is, "We take all the risk and get none of the upside." His other recent quotes to CBS Sports' Ken Berger which can be found by clicking HERE are so ridiculous that I am surprised Cuban would tap them into his smartphone.  Sadly, many of Cuban's views screamed of the ugly Americanism that rubs the world the wrong way, nevermind his misguided and hypocritical views.

Why is his viewpoint hypocritical, you ask?

Exhibit 1-A is Dirk Nowitzki of Wurzburg, Germany. Nowitzki is the Mavericks' 7-foot power forward who has one of the sweetest jump shots in basketball history.  Cuban's Mavericks have been riding Dirk's coat-tails for more than a decade.  Dirk often plays for the German national team during the Olympics, the European Championships and FIBA World Championship.

Exhibit 1-B is Steve Nash of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Nash was the starting point guard for the Mavericks from 1998 to 2004. Nash played for Canada's national basketball team at several Olympic qualifying tournaments and the 2000 Olympic Games. Nash, then on the Mavericks, helped transform the Mavericks before he moved on to his MVP years with the Phoenix Suns.

While Cuban claims there is "no upside" for the NBA or his Mavericks, it is very clear to those who follow the sport of basketball that Cuban was grossly overlooking his own team roster as both Nowitzki and Nash benefited greatly from their experiences with their national teams and growing up within the national basketball programs of their native countries.  Cuban seems to dismiss the fact that two of his best players rose to the level of the NBA's elite because of their practice time and experiences on the international stage. While Cuban erroneously moans about General Electric (NBC's former parent company before NBC was purchased by Comcast) making all the money because of NBA players participating in the Olympic Games (broadcast in the USA by NBC Sports), he conveniently overlooks the fact that the two players who put the Mavericks on the map are products of the international game, although Nash took off for Phoenix long before Dirk was able to will the Mavericks to an NBA title.

Cuban likes to talk business when it comes to the world of sports and the NBA.  He is all about the bottom line. He only likes his stock-holdings when they pay dividends and he's long been screaming from the mountaintop, calling for the NBA or his Mavericks to benefit in some monetary way from any and all NBA assets, especially the players who hold valid NBA contracts.  To some extent, he is right.  The NBA's rules from its Collective Bargaining Agreement with its Players Association call for a team to pay star players a ton of money which is guaranteed to the player in case of injury.  When players compete for their national teams, the NGB (national governing body) or basketball federation must secure expensive insurance policies to cover the player salaries in case of injury. The players' NBA team is at risk of losing the player to injury, although the player's contract would be insured.  A loss of an All-Star player because of injury might hurt a team greatly in the season (or multi-seasons) following the Olympics or Worlds. Cuban might look at the fine lines of those nasty player contracts, rather than complain about the Olympics, but that is a story for another day.

There is another simple side to the discussion, though, and it has been overlooked by Cuban because he likes to think he is the smartest guy in the room or the only guy in the room and he certainly doesn't take a liking to things that are bigger and more important than he is. The Olympic Games are bigger and more important than Cuban.  They are bigger than the NBA, any team or any player.  The Olympics are not bigger or more important because of money, contracts, NBA championships or NBC Sports.  They are more important because of the fact they place competing for one's country over competing for money. The Olympics exist because of an athlete's right and desire to wear his/her country's colors and compete for a medal of gold, silver or bronze.

Now, don't get me wrong, the Olympics are not only about national pride and they are not without major blemishes.  The Olympics and the so-called Olympic ideal have suffered greatly in modern times with IOC corruption, drug scandals, inept or corrupt officiating - you name it. If the IOC were to adopt a rule that every sport in the Games were only open to players aged 16-21 or even 23, I would applaud the decision. But that is not the case.

Then why is competing in the Olympics at risk of injury or worse so important to sportsmen?  To explain properly, my point of view can best be illustrated when Magic Johnson or Charles Barkley gush over the fact the 1992 Olympics Games in Barcelona were, by far, the best and most important experience of their basketball careers and maybe their lives.  My point can be illustrated by the fact that Steve Nash became an NBA most valuable player candidate after he put Team Canada on his shoulders in the 1999 Olympic qualifying tournament in San Juan and beat Puerto Rico on its home court to take one of the two berths available to move on to Sydney.  At the 2000 Olympic Games, Nash again lead Canada and played well until an upstart team from France that finished fourth in the knock-out round upset the top-seeded Canadians.

What price can you put on the improvement of Nash and Nowitzki -- and scores of other players, American and non American -- because of their experience with their national teams at the Olympics?  Tell me Australia's Andrew Gaze's contract with the NBA's San Antonio Spurs or his NBA championship was more important to him than his international career?  Tell me if Gaze or China's Yao Ming would place their NBA experience over that of carrying their country's flag into the Olympic opening ceremony on their own home soil? How much is the added pride, confidence, success and high level competition worth?

Colangelo and Coach K
What price can you put on the entire 2006-2008 Olympic experience for USA Basketball, led by Jerry Colangelo and Coach Mike Krzyzewski?  Every player on the USA Basketball senior national team benefited in ways that are impossible to measure. In fact, at the very first team meeting, Coach K said to all, "This is about being part of something that is bigger than all of us, something bigger than anything we've ever been a part of."

What price can you put on the images of Doug Collins on the free throw line in Munich in 1972 or with tears welling in his eyes as he talked of the 2008 Olympic experience as a broadcaster and how he felt when he spoke to the group of NBA players as they began to train for their competition in Las Vegas, then won a couple months later in Beijing?

The answer is simple.  You cannot put a dollar figure on any of the examples that come to mind as I write this blog entry.  All of the experiences are priceless.  They are worth much more than Cuban's billions can buy.  However, Cuban will never understand that fact and he yells "Moron" towards anyone who disagrees with him. But, he wasn't in the gym in San Juan in 1999 when Nash turned into an MVP and he didn't grow up in Germany with Dirk, in Australia with Gaze, in Shanghai with Yao, or in Lansing with Earvin "Magic" Johnson.  He grew up in Pittsburgh in the United States of America with an American dream to be a successful business man.  He realized that dream to an unbelievable extent but, for some reason, he wants to quash the dreams of young basketball players in the USA, Canada and around the world.  He doesn't want players with NBA contracts to compete for their country.  He wants his own selfish business dealings to be more important than the rights of a citizen of a country to represent his or her country in an international sports competition that draws millions of fans to watch in person or on their TVs.  Cuban doesn't believe that his Mavericks or the NBA benefit from the global exposure of the Olympics (off court) or the global basketball competition (on the court). He doesn't realize that hundreds of highly rated, over-the-air networks from all over the world are airing the basketball games that feature the NBA players. He is only focused on a very small and short-sighted view regarding NBC and the viewers in the United States.  I don't think Cuban knows the difference between being on BBC-1 in primetime or on cable or satellite TV at 3 o'clock in the morning.  He should think about doing some research and focus groups while attending the 2012 games in London where the popularity of basketball is a bit like the popularity of the sport of cricket here in the USA.

And, as long as I'm on a roll, I guess Cuban doesn't believe that Kevin Durant, Kevin Love or Russell Westbrook and the majority of the USA 2010 team are far better NBA players today than they were before they put on a USA jersey and won gold medals in Istanbul, Turkey and after they competed against the very best players from 24 other countries while also being coached by some of the best basketball minds in the world -- especially Coach K.

No.  To Cuban, it's all about his own selfish viewpoint, his own pocket money, his own team and the zero-sum game of global business.  It's too bad because until he stops, listens and learns -- just the way the players on the USA teams of 2008 and 2010 did -- he is not likely to win another NBA title without the aide of his German-born, bred and nurtured, 7-foot sharp-shooting, rebounding machine Nowitzki.


A few notes on the suggestions for an NBA owned international tournament proposed by Cuban to CBS Sports' Ken Berger:

- Cuban has proposed to 'buy out' the BCS and the IOC/FIBA within the past few months, however, the events the organizations run are not on the market for sale.  To obtain the rights for (just) football, Cuban would need to buy-out and fund all NCAA sports - men's and women's for all the schools involved.  There is no way he can skim-off football.

- In regard to the IOC and FIBA, the IOC isn't going slice-off the men's basketball event at the Olympics and sell it off to the highest bidder.  That is absurd.  As for FIBA, the men's and women's world championship is their #1 event. All of the federations that belong to FIBA, the international governing body for basketball, would have to be bought out as well for both the men's and women's events at all levels of play (juniors, U17, U18 etc.)

- Cuban, himself, noted FIFA and its role in the World Cup, the most popular and profitable sports venture in the world.

- He said to CBS Sports: He'd tell his fellow basketball nations, "We'll split it with all of you. And we'll sell the TV rights. And we'll own it. And so then it's owned by the NBA or whoever, and GE doesn't make all the money."

- Sure, no problem.  (Mark, have you ever met people like Aldo Vitale of Italy or Yvan Mainini of France, among many others on the FIBA board?) They care as much about the NBA and Mark Cuban as Cuban does about Patrick Baumann. the head of FIBA.

- Even if the rights were to be sold, for a select period of time (say 4, 8, 12 or 16 years) or in perpetuity, those rights would be worth far more than the NBA or Cuban are worth.

- Believe it or not, the NBA and FIBA actually worked together to create a world championship of club teams.  It was called the McDonald's Open from 1988 through 1993 and the McDonald's Championship from '95 (Hou), '97 (Chi) and '99 (SAS) when the NBA champions represented the league vs. champs from the likes of Europe, Australia and South America.  The event barely broke even, was viewed as contrived and a preseason exhibition and it went nowhere, even though it included the reigning NBA champs and dozens of world class pro players on their club teams.

- Let's turn this discussion on another side and use Baseball as an example:  If the powers that be and one team owner from Japan's pro baseball league decided to buy-out MLB's World Series and run their own baseball tournament for pro players, would American baseball fans suddenly change their viewpoint and viewing habits to recognize that competition as Numero Uno?

- How can Cuban dish this garbage out and have an iota of credibility left?

- NBA players can be injured at anytime in the off-season.  Ask former Duke guard Jay Williams. NBA players scrimmage and work-out all summer long to stay in condition. The odds of being injured in the work-outs is similar to or greater than the odds of being injured at the Olympics.

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