Monday, June 13, 2011

Cuban finally ends silence, emerges as a champion

MIAMI (AP) -- Mark Cuban zipped his lips and won a championship.

And when it was time for his old nemesis David Stern to hand him the shiny gold trophy, this was his big chance to say anything he wanted, with everyone watching.

So, what did he do?

He stood behind a 78-year-old man and let him take center stage, a reward for Donald Carter having founded the team 31 long years ago. He brought his wife and three kids on the podium to enjoy the moment. He even realized how corny he was being when he told his toddler son, "This could be yours."

Then, out came the Mark Cuban most sports fans remember.

He swore in multiple TV interviews to emphasize how proud he was of his fans. He walked into a postgame news conference talking on the phone, hung up and hollered, "Did anybody inform you guys, we're the world champions?!" On his way out, he took the trophy with him and declared it was spending the night in his room.

Meet Mark Cuban 2.0 - an NBA champion who can be humble one moment, back to his raucous roots the next.

"You know, I probably won't even shower for six months," Cuban said, laughing. "My biggest fear is that I can't remember every little part of it, every emotion, every feeling that I went through as the clock was winding down. ... I was just hoping I could just do an emotional videotape of myself and just keep it. So that's my biggest hope and fear that I'll be able to feel this forever."

Cuban hadn't spoken publicly since winning the Western Conference championship, when he proclaimed "We ain't done yet!"

On Sunday night, he spoke into the microphone with a voice scratchy from screaming and choked with emotion. He talked about being happy for his players, complimenting them for having "so much heart, so much determination and so much more than that."

"I love every one of them," he said.

A pivotal moment in getting to this point came last summer, at Cuban's house. Dirk Nowitzki was a free agent and he wanted Cuban's vow that if he re-signed, the owner would keep the core of the team intact and do all he could to find the pieces needed to make them champions.

He did, and they did.

"I give Mark a lot of credit," Nowitzki said. "He stuck with me through thick and thin. He brought all the right players always in, always trying to spend money and make this organization better and this team better. So Mark is the best."

Nowitzki was among those who appreciated Cuban censoring himself the past six weeks. It started after the Mavs won their first-round series against Portland.

Cuban held his tongue throughout a sweep of the Lakers, which had to be tough considering his past verbal jabs with Phil Jackson and Ron Artest. He remained silent again through the conference finals against Oklahoma City, even refusing to answer questions about why he'd stopped doing interviews.

He kept it up during the finals, all the more remarkable considering he was front and center during Dallas' 2006 trip to the finals against Miami, causing such a ruckus he was fined $250,000 - part of a tab that's well over $1 million.

Sitting next to the Larry O'Brien Trophy, wearing his favorite new hat, he finally explained why his silence.

"The big mystery, huh?" he said. "It didn't make any sense to say anything," he said, reciting the litany of questions he knew would surround each series. "The quieter I got, the more we won. I didn't want to break the karma."

Not that he thought there was a correlation between his silence and the team's success.

"Do you really think these guys are going to play any harder or less hard because of what I say?" he said. "That's disrespectful. They put it on the line. They didn't care if I was naked at every game. They were going to go out there and play as hard as they could."

In a corner of the jubilant locker room Sunday night, coach Rick Carlisle acknowledged that he helped convince Cuban to let the players and their performance on the court do all the talking.

"We kind of mutually talked about it," Carlisle said. "He was great about it. He understood and he knew it was the right thing. ... Mark's a much more humble person than a lot of people want to believe. His heart is always in the right place. It gives us the tools to succeed. He was extremely disciplined during this run and it helped us."

During the trophy presentation, and again at the start of his postgame interview, Carlisle used the line, "Our owner is now available for interviews." It was his way of saying the muzzle was off.

"Look, he's a smart guy," Carlisle said. "He understands that certain things are sacred."

Carter started the Mavericks in 1980 after a long, hard fight for an expansion team. He sold the club to Ross Perot Jr. in 1996, and in 2000 he sold it to Cuban. Mr. C, as he's fondly known, has remained a part of the organization and a constant presence in courtside seats directly across from the Mavs bench - always wearing the white cowboy hat that was part of the club's original logo.

Cuban approached Carter at game's end and asked him to accept the trophy from Stern. It was a classy move and, by Carter's estimation, the continuation of a run of great moves by Cuban this postseason.

"There wasn't a script written for him that I know of, but he played it down exactly on when to say something, when not to," Carter said. "He was everything I would ask an owner to be."

With his voice cracking, Carter added: "I'll just say he has become the owner I've always wanted because of his love of the game. I'd put him up against any of the owners and I've been around for 31 years."

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