Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Cuban whistle crisis.

Let me start out by saying I am not a fan of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. It is in large part due to the antics of their kook owner, billionaire Mark Cuban.

Since buying the team in January 2000, Cuban has been fined in excess of $1 million, mostly for constant criticism of NBA on-court officials.

It appears Cuban will add to his total after his latest temper tantrum Sunday evening.

By the time Mark Cuban arrived in the Dallas Mavericks' locker room, he'd already peeled off the Jerry Stackhouse jersey he had been wearing in support of his suspended forward.

The symbolism was fitting: Stackhouse's hard foul in Game 4 of the NBA Finals was old news. The way Game 5 finished, Cuban had a whole new fight on his hands.

Cuban was irate over what he considered a series of officiating breakdowns at the end of Dallas' 101-100 overtime loss to the Miami Heat on Sunday night. The loss left the Mavericks trailing the series 3-2 and facing elimination going into Game 6 in Dallas on Tuesday night.

When time ran out in Game 5, Cuban ran onto the court to vent at official Joe DeRosa, then stared down and screamed toward commissioner David Stern and a group of league officials, from the court, then the stands.

I have to admit that there is part of me who has an appreciation for Cuban. Prior to his buying the Mavs, they were one of the more pathetic NBA franchises. They hadn’t had a winning season in ten years, which included campaigns of 69 and 71 losses (The NBA season consists of 82 regular season games). Cuban’s willingness to spare no expense has resulted in the Mavericks averaging 56 wins per season in the last five years.

Despite all of that phenomenal success, Cuban receives most of his notoriety for his war of words with NBA commissioner David Stern and his scathing rebukes of NBA referees.

Cuban practically turned getting fined into an art form after going from an owner of season tickets to owning the Mavericks.

One comment about him not hiring the league's head of officiating to manage a Dairy Queen landed Cuban as a manager for a day; he also donned pinstripes and officiated a Harlem Globetrotters game.

As his team improved, there were fewer stunts. He remained a visible, vocal critic, though, enough for some to suggest that his team ends up not getting the benefit of the doubt from officials.

Mavs supporters have brought that up again in the wake of three players getting suspended this postseason, with Stackhouse the most recent.

Dallas had a chance to win without its top reserve, leading by 11 points early and by four late in the fourth quarter. Miami ended up winning on a pair of free throws by Dwyane Wade with 1.9 seconds left in overtime.

Cuban had several gripes about the play that sent Wade to the line, starting with Wade not being whistled for a collision that left Dallas'
Jason Terry on the floor.

"I guess that's not a call," Cuban said. "I guess that's not a foul."

Can you imagine how much commissioner Stern would have to grit his teeth when presenting the NBA championship trophy to Cuban? It would be the equivalent of the NFL’s Super Bowl XV when Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis accepted the championship trophy from his perpetual rival, commissioner Pete Rozelle.

I’m not one for conspiracy theories. But one that will indeed be thrown out there is Stern asking the refs to be more a little more liberal in whistling Dallas for fouls.

Again, that’s just an unsubstantiated theory.

But an intriguing one at that.

UPDATE: Stern says Cuban's outbursts "not healthy for him or the game."

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