The Bucks Stop Here

Usually, one of the signs of a successful pro sports franchise is a steady, level-headed owner or ownership group. Think about the Rooney family in Pittsburgh (the NFL’s Steelers), or the Mara family in New York City (the NFL’s Giants). You almost never read about these owners, because the attention is where it belongs — on the field.

If an owner is in the news more than his (or her, thank you Marge Schott, former owner of MLB’s Cincinnati Reds) team, then the team is usually having problems of some sort. Whether it’s Donald Sterling (the NBA’s Clippers) being sued for keeping blacks from living in the properties he owns or Frank McCourt using the storied Dodgers as one of the shells in his divorce court carney game, when there is chaos at the top, the team usually isn’t very good.

In our own beloved burgh of Dallas, we’ve seen this in just about all of our sports. Take the Texas Rangers. Yes, they’ve been to the last two World Series, but it wasn’t always this way. The ownership group led by Nolan Ryan has set the stage for stability — and for calm. When manager Ron Washington disclosed his positive test result for cocaine, Ryan and the rest of the management group decided to trust him and give him another chance. The players and the rest of the team have thrived in an atmosphere of trust and respect — and of high expectations.

Of course, Nolan Ryan wasn’t always this calm, cool and collected.

And it wasn’t always this way for the Rangers. Brad Corbett, who owned the team during the crazy days of the 1970’s, a decade that featured a manager getting punched by a player, another manager only coaching the team for one day, and Billy Martin, may have been just the loudest of a series of odd owners. After a loss on July 1, 1977, Corbett broke down in tears and said he was going to sell the team, “because it’s killing me. They’re dogs on the field and they’re dogs off the field.” (Sports Illustrated). A year later, he went down to the Rangers’ clubhouse after a 10th-inning loss to the Brewers (and after some drinks of his own), kicked open the clubhouse door, and yelled at everyone he saw. Not surprisingly, the streak didn’t end, and the Rangers ended up finishing far back in their division.

But it’s not just the Rangers. Jerry Jones took a team that could possibly have won five straight Super Bowls and turned it into one that won 3 out of 4, and then dragging it down into mediocrity, or worse, for the next 20 years. He has inserted himself into the media spotlight, meddled in decisions at every level, built a stadium that made the city (and himself) a laughingstock because of the cramped corners in which he was able to shove seats, only to have some of those seats fail at the worst possible time. He has managed to put the Cowboys’ star on every imaginable product, from shirts and hats to charcoal and barbecue sauce.

Check out Jerry’s look after yet another loss to the Giants.

Tom Hicks, who owned both the Rangers and the Stars, didn’t get out much in public, but that was probably because he was busy losing money in his private businesses and funneling income from the sports franchises to cover the funds. He also bought an interest in the storied English soccer club Liverpool, and in the aftermath of that nightmare, the judge sorting things out won’t even give him unrestricted access to the litigation documents, because he doesn’t trust him. (London Daily Mail).
So, chaos at the top generally means failure on the field, or rink, or court.
But that brings us to the curious case of Mark Cuban. His Dallas Mavericks have made the playoffs for the past 12 years in a row. They won a championship in 2011, defeating the heavily favored Miami Heat in 6 games.
However, Mark Cuban has developed a reputation about complaining — about officiating. He has compiled statistics and sent them to the league. There’s nothing wrong with research, but when he sits on the sideline and screams at officials, opposing players, and people who are traveling with opposing players, that crosses the line. Not only is it inappropriate, but it hurts the team.
The year the Mavericks won 62 games, but lost to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs, the team panicked. Coach Avery Johnson shifted his rotations when he should have trusted him, but the lack of confidence appears to have gone all the way to the top. Here’s Mark Cuban ranting at the officials:

In 2009, when the Mavericks lost to the Nuggets in the playoffs, Cuban got into it with…
not a referee….but a player’s mother.

In 2011, Mark Cuban noticed that the less he said on the court, the better his team did in the playoffs. The results: a title, and a $90,000 bottle of champagne for the celebration:

This year, though, even though Mark Cuban decided to wait a year to go after Deron Williams and Dwight Howard, which meant that this year would be more of a holding pattern than a title defense, the playoffs again brought out the worst from the top. As ESPN.com’s Jean-Jacques Taylor wrote last night, after the Mavericks went down 3-0 in the first round against the Thunder, “no team seemingly whines about the officials more than the Mavs, who follow their owner’s lead. Rick Carlisle, the best coach the Mavs have ever had, has been doing it all series.
Whether he realize[s] it or not, all the complaining [does is] give the rest of his squad permission to moan and groan about every whistle that didn’t go their way.”

Mark Cuban has brought the Mavericks back from the NBA’s graveyard. He has restored honor and glory to a team that had its first peak at an unfortunate time, the late 1980’s, when the Lakers were also at a peak with Magic and Kareem.

As Cuban goes, so goes the team. He has proven, time and again, that he has plans for this team to be among the league’s elite. Even if you don’t like what happened this year, if his plan to bring in Deron and Dwight next year works, and we’re going deep into next year’s playoffs, he’ll be back on top again — and he will have been right.

But getting the right players (and the right coach, which he has) is not enough. The team follows their owner. When he’s upbeat and passionate, the team soars. When he’s over there ranting and screaming, the team falls apart. It happened in 2006, when he started panicking in the Finals. In 2007, when they collapsed against the Warriors. In 2009, when they fell apart against the Nuggets.

The year he was calm, we raised a banner. If his plan works, and if he remembers to be confident next summer, we should be raising another one.

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