Quite a few years ago, after he had sold Broadcast.com to Yahoo! for billions of dollars but before he leapt to international prominence as owner and impresario of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, I had some brief business dealings with Mark Cuban.
I only spoke with Mark a couple of times. He wasn’t my contact; Mr. Cuban had a history with my then-business partner Ken Rutkowski, and we did a short dance exploring a business venture with him that never went anywhere.
While I’ve never mentioned Mark Cuban here before today, I do speak about him every now and again. Mark Cuban is one of those accidental billionaires that the Internet created out of nothing. And when I speak of Mark Cuban, my opinion generally comes out sounding as though I don’t think he’s very smart. With Broadcast.com, Cuban was simply in the right place at the right time; he grew a smart idea enough to create a big deal before anyone else managed to (Rutkowski and I were in a similar business, by the way), and just happened to get very, very lucky.
Well, Mark Cuban is smart. He’s got a big mouth and plays the games he elects to participate in according to rules that most successful business people eschew, but so what? Cuban speaks his mind. I applaud that.
Last week, Mark Cuban said that he should be paid to allow his Dallas Mavericks basketball players to participate in the Olympic Games. Or, if you interpret Cuban’s words slightly differently and think of the NBA as a socialist entity of the sort that the NFL is, the NBA should be paid and its teams should share the “rental revenue”.
It’s not a completely stupid idea.
The NBA, through their contracts with the teams that comprise it, “owns” the athletes who play in it. These athletes are very valuable commodities, and if they get hurt while playing in the Olympics the damage to the NBA and the teams for which the individual athletes compete can be significant. And forget the injury scenario; if the NBA owns the basketball playing services of these men, then shouldn’t they be compensated for loaning them out to the Olympic teams with which they spend a couple of weeks every four summers?
I know, I know; that’s unpatriotic. And besides, the Olympic Games occur while the NBA is enjoying its off-season, so what’s the point of the conversation?
It’s a business change thing. And that’s the point.
Famously, former NBA star Alonzo Mourning once stated that he worked for shoe and apparel company Nike. Nike paid Mourning more each year to wear their sneakers than he earned playing basketball, and Zo’s statement was one of those candid, Mark Cuban-esque statements that often define business change.
While that might be amazing, it wasn’t even groundbreaking. During the 1992 Olympics Adidas was the official sponsor and Team USA’s basketball uniforms were branded as such. Michael Jordan draped the American flag over his shoulder to cover the Adidas logo above his left chest in celebratory and publicity photos because he was a Nike athlete.
Forget the brashness of Mark Cuban’s words and demeanor. Don’t get caught up in distracting conversations about human beings as property. This is a business conversation, and while I’m betting most of us would blanch at the suggestion that even patriotism comes at a price, his opinion has merit. I’m reminded of the debate over whether college athletes should be paid for playing their sports. This argument may come from the other side, but the point is the same. Everything is negotiable. Yes, even the way we see the Olympic Games.
Mark Cuban deserves praise for his comments, even if you disagree with him. Mark . . . I don’t often say this, but . . . I’m with you on this one.