In game of priorities, Cuban shoots air ball

February 11, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

FOR SUCH A high-tech, truth-speaking revolutionary, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban sure seems to have his head up his Wi-Fi.

Of course, this is the same truth-speaking revolutionary who said Kobe Bryant's rape trial would help spike interest in the NBA. Some of us prefer our NBA interest spiked by Carmelo Anthony's poise, LeBron James' 1,000th point and Jerry Sloan's 900th win, but there's no accounting for taste.

The Kobe comments kicked off this NBA season. Now, just in time for All-Star Weekend - no, it's not just a game if a fleet of stretch Escalade limos are involved - Cuban has a new cause celebre: the wisdom of sending NBA players to the Olympics when owners like him have these guys signed to guaranteed, multimillion-dollar contracts.

Cuban has been engaging in an all-systems war of words and e-mail this week with The Dallas Morning News and Larry Brown, coach of the Detroit Pistons and the U.S. Olympic team that will compete this summer in Athens.

Philosophically, the teacher (Brown) believes the NBA has an obligation to continue sharing "our" game and talents with the world.

"Unfortunately, a guy like Cuban makes a ... statement, a guy who's never had an opportunity to represent his country and be a part of that whole process and understand the goodwill and the way we've improved the game," Brown said.

"Hell, if the Dream Team didn't go [in 1992], maybe he [Cuban] wouldn't have half his players. These kids would be playing soccer or something else. That makes me sick."

The check writer (Cuban) has all but issued a warning to his Mavericks: Don't play.

"It's really easy to spend other people's money," Cuban said of Brown. "And honestly, I don't think Larry fully understands. He understands from a USA perspective."

Good thing Germany and Canada did not qualify for the 2004 Summer Games. Otherwise, Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash would be in a world of hurt, trying to decide: Do I go against the owner who outfits the locker room with DVD players or do I try to get to the medal stand with my countrymen?

Cuban fails to mention that all international basketball federations, including USA Basketball, have insurance to cover the contracts of the NBA players. What Cuban is talking about is the intangible value a guy like Nowitzki brings to the Dallas franchise - certainly something worth considering.

Unless, as the NBA sees it, there is far more upside to sending a bevy of All-Star players out into international competition rather than capitulating to worry about whether one suffers an injury.

"The NBA has really supported international basketball any way it can, whether it's for our national team or other countries," said Terry Lyons, the NBA's vice president of international public relations.

The NBA is USA Basketball - at least for the senior men's competition committee. It's chaired by Stu Jackson, with Bryan Colangelo, Billy King, Mitch Kupchak, Kevin O'Connor, Garry St. Jean and Rod Thorn serving on the committee, along with athlete representatives Joe Dumars and Steve Smith.

USA Basketball has been helping grow the game internationally and spur the development of foreign stars since 1989, when FIBA voted to allow professional players into the Olympics. The United States voted against it but quickly found out that by sending the Dream Team to the 1992 Olympics, it could do more to globalize the NBA than expose its players to risk.

In fact, in case anyone missed the most important story of the NBA the past dozen years - and no, it's not Rasheed Wallace, the Jail Blazers or the 15 Eastern Conference coaches who have been fired or relocated since last June - just scan the roster for NBA All-Star Weekend.

Globalization, baby.

Yao Ming, Nowitzki, Peja Stojakovic, Andrei Kirilenko, Jamaal Magloire, Nene, Marko Jaric and Emanuel Ginobili.

One could argue that the misdeeds of certain NBA miscreants (like the chronically ill-behaved Wallace) won't weaken the league's ever-growing roots of economic stability. Not when international is the flavor of the era.

How international?

"The NBA All-Star 2004 events will reach more than 3.1 billion people in 212 countries through NBA television, Internet, film and digital technologies."

You can read those favorite stats of NBA commissioner David Stern in any one of a half-dozen languages, thanks to NBA.com sites in French, Spanish, Japanese and Taiwanese, not to mention sites just for China and Brazil, Canada and the United Kingdom.

The NBA is very well-positioned to reap all sorts of benefits from this sort of market saturation. Preseason games were played overseas, with Stern talking about plans to expand the NBA into Europe by the end of the decade.

After Europe, Asia. Just wait until 2008, when Yao stars in a Beijing Olympics, opening the floodgates on a behemoth market.

All of this makes it a very interesting time for Cuban to declare he doesn't like the idea of sharing his star players with the rest of the world. For a high-speed Internet connection kind of owner, it's a shortsighted business plan. Yes, losing Dirk would be costly, but so, too, would be losing the world market - for NBA players and consumers.

"In '92, we sent the Dream Team over to improve the quality of sport worldwide. I think that is what we have done," Brown said. "That's why we have Asians, South Americans, African and European kids playing in our league. Most of the owners who have issues have benefited by that, and so has the NBA."

Advantage, Brown. Advantage, Stern. Advantage, NBA, which currently has 67 players from 30 countries besides the one that gave us Mark Cuban and Rasheed Wallace.

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