Don Nelson

Mark Cuban and the curse of Nellie

Mark Cuban used to be the toast of the NBA, unless you happened to be a fellow team owner or David Stern. Forget John McCain, Cuban really was a true maverick, and not just because he became a majority owner of the Mavericks at age 41. Before Cuban, Dallas had suffered a run of ten straight losing seasons; after Cuban took over majority ownership the Mavericks’ lowest win total in a season has been 51 (last season). There with Cuban from the start? Don Nelson.

Even though Cuban oftentimes showed jackass tendencies and has been fined at least $1.6 million dollars by the NBA since 2000, nobody can deny that he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to the Mavs. Cuban opened his wallet to make the Mavericks not only a perennial winner but perhaps the most spoiled group of employees in the history of the world. More importantly to fans in Dallas, he also made it fun to go to a Mavs game. Suddenly American Airlines Arena was the place to be, after a previous decade in which the most noteworthy thing about the Mavs was the Jason Kidd-Toni Braxton-Jimmy Jackson love triangle.

Yes, Cuban’s had a nice run (Except for The Benefactor, back when he got in that pissing match with Donald Trump). Then he forced Don Nelson out as coach in 2005, and that changed everything.

It took a while for Nellie to get exact revenge on Cuban for replacing him with Avery Johnson — April of 2007, to be exact. Ever since the Warriors spanked Dirk and the boys in the first round of the 2007 playoffs, Cuban has been even more of an impulsive jackass than ever, but on player personnel decisions he’s missed more often than he’s hit. Instead of realizing that the Mavericks needed a complete makeover, he made the Jason Kidd-for-Devin Harris trade in the middle of last season. Soon the Mavs were a slow team on their way to a second straight first round exit, and Johnson, Nellie’s replacement, was shown the door after failing to get along with the players or Cuban.

However, to an entrepreneur like Cuban, even watching his beloved Mavericks fail to win a playoff series since getting robbed of an NBA title in 2006 could hardly have stung as badly as watching his lawyers lose to Nellie’s. Maybe that’s why even though Nelson won a $7.1 million arbitration settlement against Cuban, Cuban still hasn’t paid Nellie a dime.

Or perhaps Cuban is saving his money for his next legal fight, one he hardly stands a great chance of winning. According to the federal government Cuban profited via insider trading, a charge that could possibly lead to the same type of embarrassment and prison time experienced by Martha Stewart a few years ago. Unlike owners who desperately trade for aging point guards, in these types of cases the feds rarely fail.

Cuban’s still a billionaire so it’s hard to feel that sorry for him (he’s sort of a cross between Richard Branson and Jerry Jones), even though Cuban can’t win these days when he wants to spend money. Major League Baseball is widely thought to be using Cuban’s attempt to purchase the Chicago Cubs as a bargaining tool to get other, less volatile potential buyers to up the ante. Most insiders say he has as much a chance of being approved to own the Cubs as Pete Rose does to again become a Major League field manager.

This year the Mavs have a new coach in Rick Carlisle, but their slide towards the NBA Draft Lottery seems inevitable. Dallas’ record is currently 6-7, and that’s after winning four games in a row against the Knicks, Bobcats, Rockets (without Yao Ming) and Grizzlies. The only member of their core under 30 is Josh Howard (28), who I think we can all agree has hit his ceiling as a player. Things don’t seem to be looking up anytime soon for Cuban — maybe he should think about paying Nelson his money in hopes of putting this curse to an end.

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