January 23, 2002

Cuban Ice Cream Crisis

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If you happened to be in the Dallas area last Wednesday and dying for a Blizzard at Dairy Queen you probably had to wait on the longest line for ice cream in recorded history. The reason? A more than capable guest manager happened to stop by on that day to make good on a wild promise that cost him a cool million dollars.

Who is this billion-dollar soda jerk? None other than the colorful and ever lovable Mark Cuban, majority owner of the Dallas Mavericks and the biggest mouth in sports management. Cuban is now infamous for his utter disdain of NBA officials and his propensity to voice that disdain in less than defensible ways. After a Mavericks’ loss three weeks ago, Cuban once again lived up to his reputation by stating that he wouldn’t trust the NBA’s head of officials, Ed Rush, to manage a Dairy Queen, much less a professional basketball game.

The comment reverberated through the media and before long Cuban was promising to research his statement by one day actually attempting the task of running a Dairy Queen. Dairy Queen immediately challenged Cuban to make good on his claim and within 72 hours Mark Cuban was working the ice cream machine at a branch in Coppell, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.

The stunt drew a crowd of nearly 2,000 people, some coming from miles away or even other states to see pro sports’ most dynamic owner at his comical best.

Who is Mark Cuban? Good question, since most people only know his face from the sound bytes he provides nightly for SportsCenter anchors to discuss and chuckle at.

Mark Cuban is a billionaire who made his money in the truest entrepreneurial fashion. Cuban was the brains behind Broadcast.com (the No. 1 media provider on the net), Travelocity.com (the leading online travel agency), and MicroSolutions (a billion dollar computer company which he eventually sold to Compuserve).

Cuban was a billionaire at thirty and could have lived the rest of his life quite comfortably by sitting back and watching his wealth rise. Instead, Cuban cashed in on a life-long dream to own an NBA team by personally convincing then-Dallas owner Ross Perot Jr. to sell him the team in January of 2000.

Since then, Cuban has changed nearly everything about the once cellar-dwelling Mavericks who hadn’t filled their arena in recent memory.

When he bought the Mavs, Cuban promised to “give [the fans and players] every ounce of energy that I possess to turn this into a winning team.”

The results were immediate, as the rejuvenation through the young enthusiasm of their new owner prompted the last place Mavs to end their season on a 31-19 tear that year, including a 9-1 effort to end the season.

That offseason and into the 2001 campaign, Cuban’s efforts were focused on fixing the Mavs’ most apparent weaknesses by signing and trading for big name players such as Juwan Howard and Michael Finley. He also personally paid for offensive, defensive, and shooting specialists to be added to the Mavs’ coaching staff.

Cuban’s efforts paid off as the Mavericks’ soared to a winning season and a near miss at the Western Conference Finals. The change was drastic and the thrust was undeniably Cuban’s unheard-of commitment to improving his team through his role in the Mavs’ front office.

Currently, the Mavericks have the fifth best record in the league and are third in the NBA’s most competitive division.

Having built a now championship caliber team, Cuban’s efforts now seem focused on Dallas fans.

Cuban has reached out to Dallas fans and the surrounding community in numerous and mostly unprecedented ways. Since his ownership began, Cuban has accepted e-mail from fans on his personal computer and has been responsive to fans’ requests – installing a three sided shot clock that can be seen from anywhere in the arena and wiring the entire arena to allow fans to listen to the game being broadcast on a local radio station.

Cuban has also fostered and demanded upon a party atmosphere at the arena resulting in what ESPN.com calls “the most complete entertainment experience in all of sports.”

Cuban also participated in the Dallas Hoop-it-Up tournament — as a player — and has created the Dallas “Be a Hero” program which connects young students with trained mentors.

This “hero” in his own right has actually made what may seem his only fault into possibly his most admirable trait. Cuban has been fined over a million dollars total for his comments about NBA officials but has turned a bad thing great by matching each dollar of those fines with a gift to a charity of his choice. Cuban’s “Dairy Queen” gem cost him half a million dollars — the league’s most lucrative fine ever. However, Cuban stayed true to his promise made long ago that he’d match any fine with charity offerings by giving over half a million dollars to a breast cancer research organization.

Mark Cuban is just forty five and has more money than Oprah and will overtake Donald Trump at year’s end. He also is living his dream, having always been an admitted basketball junkie, and saying whatever he wants about the thing for which he is most passionate.

He is the face of the new NBA and the face of a new generation which will not seek more money at their own expense but fulfillment of personal dreams.

Two years ago Cuban was named America’s most eligible bachelor, so I guess people like what they see.

If the excitement he has brought to a once stagnating league is any indication of all the things this new generation will bring, then I guess I like what I see as well.

And if not, well, there will always be that Dairy Queen around the corner where greatness once scooped.

Archived article by Scott Jones