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.
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.
Meet the new, humble Cuban—the one who also is an NBA champion.
Cuban hadn’t spoken publicly since winning the Western Conference championship, when he proclaimed “We ain’t done yet!” Once he stepped to the microphone, in 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.”
The dot-com billionaire, media mogul and reality TV star hit the mute button on himself after the Mavs won their first-round series against Portland.
He 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(notes). He remained silent again through the conference finals against Oklahoma City, even refusing to answer a question 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 by Stern—part of a tab that’s well over $1 million.
In a corner of the jubiliant locker room Sunday night, after Dallas’ 105-95 victory that clinched the title, 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.”