The Mavs' Big Winner: Mark Cuban's New Image

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Ron T. Ennis / Fort Worth Star-Telegram / MCT / Getty Images

Dallas Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban carries the NBA championship trophy ahead of player Dirk Nowitzki on June 13, 2011

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That doesn't mean, however, that Cuban has suddenly become a recluse who never wants to make waves. Far from it. After the victory, he took a well-deserved shot at Miami's fans, who allowed the hundreds of Mavs supporters to drown them out in Miami during Game 6. "Our fans just punked the s--- out of Miami fans," he said during a live ESPN interview after Dallas clinched the title. He was proud to announce that he had slept with the Larry O'Brien trophy, and a picture of him cradling it in one hand while he relieved himself at a urinal made the rounds online.

He has even talked about forgoing gaudy championship rings, the traditional signs of superiority for professional players, in favor of some other kind of celebratory token. Good riddance. Those oversized rocks were not meant for the human hand. (That may be a minority opinion, however. Some of Cuban's players, including finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, are not too hot on this idea, so he may cave).

But Cuban's evolution as an owner isn't just a heartwarming sports tale; his decisions this postseason, and throughout the past few years, offer useful lessons for fellow owners — or any business leader, for that matter.

Start with how he stuck with Nowitzki. After crushing Dallas losses in the 2006 finals and then the 2007 playoffs, in which the top-seeded Mavs fell to the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors in the first round, Cuban could have blown up the team. Many prognosticators called for him to do so. He did make changes, but they were gradual, with Nowitzki and streak shooter Jason Terry remaining at the core. In 2008 he traded a talented young point guard, Devin Harris, for one most people figured was fading, Jason Kidd. The move bucked convention and initially seemed to backfire, but it was Kidd who nailed several of the clutch threes in the finals.

After last season and another early-round Mavs playoff exit, he could have let Nowitzki walk and made a more serious run at LeBron James. Instead, he re-signed Dirk for four more years, at a total of $80 million, thus avoiding LeBron's summer spectacle and his fourth-quarter failures and media mishaps. (James, who suggested in a post-finals press conference the he didn't care what his critics said about him because they still had their miserable middle-class lives to go back to, could take some tips on holding his tongue from Cuban.)

In 2008 Cuban, maybe the most player-friendly owner in the league — everything in Dallas, from the locker rooms to the practice facilities to the charter flights, is first-class — hired a coach, Rick Carlisle, with a reputation for wearing down players. To many observers, it seemed an odd match. But Cuban looked at Carlisle's data, saw his reputation for improving struggling teams and made a decidedly unsexy coaching hire.

And speaking of data, Cuban was one of the early adopters of the advanced analytics that truly quantified the trends of the game. He's the first owner to let a pure stat geek, Roland Beech, sit within earshot of the bench during the game.

Dallas general manager Donnie Nelson, who has been with the team 13 years, gives Cuban credit for knowing when to loosen the managerial leash. When Cuban first took over the team, Nelson says, the owner was at every meeting, every practice, learning the business and evaluating his employees. If he still micromanaged like that a decade leader, it would be suffocating. "As soon as you earn Mark's trust, you earn the freedom card," says Nelson.

Not surprisingly, some of the old guard are not entirely convinced that guys like Cuban are good for pro sports. Former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, for example, said this week that he would be "on guard" if Cuban were to take over a baseball franchise. (Cuban put in unsuccessful bids for the Texas Rangers last year and the Chicago Cubs in 2009. Reportedly, some baseball owners weren't keen on the idea of Cuban shaking things up).

"I mean, winning is not everything, and I'm afraid for some of these owners," Vincent said during a June 15 radio interview. "They get so carried away with winning, they believe that's the objective."

And what, exactly, is wrong with winning? Or, put another way, for fans of downtrodden franchises, the question is simple.

Would you want Mark Cuban owning your team?

Gregory is a staff writer at TIME. Keeping Score, his sports column for, appears every Friday. Follow him on Twitter at @seanmgregory.

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