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In a very short time, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has become the new poster boy for poor sportsmanship in American professional sports. The National Basketball Association has repeatedly assessed him six-figure fines for his courtside actions, the latest coming during the NBA finals with the Miami Heat. Cuban was recently cited for "several acts of misconduct" that occurred during Dallas’s 101-100 overtime loss to the Miami Heat. He screams at officials, uses profanity in press conferences, and in general is known for his explosive fan behaviour as much as for his ownership of the team.

Since buying the team in 2000, Cuban has earned a business reputation as a turnaround specialist, taking a team in the doldrums and positioning it to double its revenues to $100 million in the past year. Meanwhile, his recent fine is his tenth in the 6 ½ years he’s owned the team and brings his total fines to about $1.5 million. He claims to have matched this fine total with similar donations to charities.

The question is, is Mark Cuban another example of what’s wrong with professional sports—too much greed, too many prima donna personalities, too much unsportsmanlike conduct? Or is he an otherwise nice guy who has shrewdly positioned his fan behaviour as part of a larger marketing scheme to put the Dallas Mavericks on the map? If that’s so it seems to be working. A million and one-half dollar fine doesn’t mean much in financial terms if it’s just one of the costs of running a business grossing one hundred million dollars.

But even if we give him the benefit of the doubt that he might be a decent person in his “other life” out of the arena, and even if we bought the idea that his antics are a part of some marketing scheme, his fan behaviour is a form of leadership pointing in the wrong direction. Unsportsmanlike conduct, cheating, drug abuse, and even violence are increasingly defining sports culture in America and globally. One more example of a person who misuses and abuses his notoriety and position is not something American sports culture needs. A “Bobby Knight” in the owner’s box isn’t very appealing.

While the Dallas Mavericks are winning, people will tolerate Cuban’s bad example. Some will even point to it as a supposedly necessary part of their winning organizational formula. But sometime, as it comes to all teams, the Dallas Mavericks will lose again, and when that happens people will not likely celebrate a choleric, fickle owner. His actions won’t be amusing. They’ll be annoying.

Cuban could learn to evidence passion and enthusiasm for the game and his team in a way that models sportsmanship for young players on his team and even younger players and fans across America alike. He could yell for his team, not against the other team or the referees. He could promote wearing team colors. He could literally wave their logo flag or dance with their mascot. He could compliment the opposing team, coaches, and owner during press conferences. He could do silly fan-atical things that otherwise do not illustrate negative attitudes, language, and actions.

He could do all this and more in a positive way and be even more effective in marketing his team than he has been as a shrewd businessman and poor fan. If he did these things, others in professional, intercollegiate, and interscholastic sports would respect him. Now they just think he’s a flash in the pan like other misbehaving sports figures have been in the past.


© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

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