`Right is its own defense' _ outspoken NBA team owner Mark Cuban unbowed by mounting fines

Monday, January 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DALLAS (AP) _ Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of basketball's Dallas Mavericks, just can't help himself when it comes to criticizing the referees.

In the two years since he made the leap from season-ticket holder, Cuban has been fined more than $1 million by the National Basketball Association for his insults and antics. Last week, he was fined a half-million dollars _ a record for an individual _ for saying he wouldn't hire the league's head of referees ``to manage a Dairy Queen.''

Two of the biggest mouths in NBA history _ Dennis Rodman and Charles Barkley _ never came close to putting up those kind of numbers. Not that Cuban is upset. He considers the fines simply the cost of doing business.

``Right is its own defense. I'd rather be writing checks than face the possibility of somebody getting hurt. Not to say I can stop it, but I'd feel a lot worse if I didn't try,'' said Cuban, who matches every dollar he is fined with donations to charity.

Cuban, 43, bought his way into the NBA after making more than $1 billion when Yahoo! bought Broadcast.com, the company he and a friend started so they could listen to radio broadcasts of Indiana University basketball games via the Internet.

Since then, Cuban has not stopped challenging NBA officials. He has even hired people to monitor the refs so he can back up his insults with information.

The fines _ eight of them _ have piled up. On the first anniversary of his buying the team, he was fined a then-record $250,000 for suggesting officials missed a call in the final seconds of a loss. He had the replay frozen on the arena's JumboTron screen and gathered photographers to capture the moment.

Said Cuban at the time: ``I think it's great. There is no way we could spend $250,000 to get this type of promotion for the Mavs.''

He has also been punished for ``confronting and verbally abusing'' officials during and after a game.

Then there was the $10,000 fine and two-game ban for running onto the floor when the Cleveland Cavaliers and Mavericks got into a shoving match as Dallas ran up the score in the final seconds in an effort to reach 100 points _ the trigger point so fans could get coupons for 99-cent chalupas as part of a fast-food promotion.

After last week's $500,000 penalty for the Dairy Queen wisecrack, the fast-food chain challenged Cuban to manage a DQ for a day and he promptly accepted.

The NBA does not comment or elaborate on fines. On a visit to Dallas during last season's playoffs, NBA Commissioner David Stern said ownership is doing a ``delightful job, as good as it gets as far as getting fans involved and the intensity of management.''

``But 50 years from now the owner over there in the new arena will still be complaining about officiating,'' Stern said. ``I guarantee it.''

Love him or loathe him, it is hard to argue with the results. The Mavericks won 53 games during Cuban's first full season and reached the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. They are off to a better start this season.

``I was a fan back when the Mavericks couldn't win a game, then he came along and made a difference,'' Reta ImBoden said Thursday during Dallas' 111-89 victory over the New York Knicks. ``These guys are playing with their hearts, and I think Mark Cuban has a lot to do with it.''

Cuban began going to Mavs games when he moved to Dallas in the early 1980s. His first season tickets were in the upper deck, but he upgraded over the years to courtside seats next to the team's bench.

The Mavericks players knew his face _ and, of course, his voice _ but not his name. When they were introduced to their new boss, in walked the loudmouth fan from the front row in his customary jeans and T-shirt.

Cuban leaves the basketball to coach-general manager Don Nelson but has lavished new equipment and perks on the players, including fluffier towels and robes, comfier courtside seats and bigger hotel beds.

``He says some things he might regret later, or that he shouldn't say, but that's just him,'' forward Dirk Nowitzki said. ``He's our No. 1 fan. He's got our back, no matter what happens. It's great to work for him.''