Search

Dallas Maverick Iconoclastic dotcom billionaire Mark Cuban thought it might be a lot of fun to own an NBA franchise--even the woeful team in Big D--and guess what? He was right

Nov. 06, 2000
Nov. 06, 2000

Table of Contents
Nov. 6, 2000

Dallas Maverick Iconoclastic dotcom billionaire Mark Cuban thought it might be a lot of fun to own an NBA franchise--even the woeful team in Big D--and guess what? He was right

There is a satisfying dishevelment to him, as if to confirm the
happenstance of success. As if to say: He's no more groomed for
moguldom than you. Which is really to say, since the wearing of
hard-soled shoes no longer contributes materially to empire
building in this age of serendipitous financial markets: You
could be a billionaire too.

This is an article from the Nov. 6, 2000 issue Original Layout

Probably you couldn't, or there'd be more than 300 billionaires
in the U.S., but watching Mark Cuban operate, looking rumpled and
a little disorganized, offers hope. He doesn't usually keep notes
on Post-it pads, he says, looking at the butterscotch
checkerboard that just developed on his desk, but things got a
little fast and furious for a couple of minutes, with a
three-team deal turning into a four-team deal, all to bring a
backup guard named Howard Eisley to the Dallas Mavericks. Plus,
MJ had just called, and, well, let's see you keep your composure
with MJ on the phone.

But forgive him that little failure of office management--"I
usually use this tablet," he says--and you still have the kind of
mess that looks reassuringly familiar to us thousandaires.
Sitting in his office, the only fully (or even partially)
furnished room in his 24,000-square-foot Dallas mansion, he seems
awash in his disorder. At ease with it, really. A computer is in
a corner, cracked open when he became curious about its innards.
A lucky jersey--DALLAS 1--is draped over his chair. There are
pictures on his desk from a recent weekend barbecue at his home
(which, admittedly, featured John Mellencamp as the
entertainment), fellow 40-year-olds mugging like frat brothers.
His (soft-soled) feet are up on one of the five computers
(uncracked) that blink around him. Yahoo! Broadcast, the source
of his improbable wealth, his baby (which ought to be surrounding
him with his favored rap music), is, more to his consternation
than embarrassment (he sold it; it's not his anymore), crackling
with static. "That's Yahoo's problem," he says, almost smugly.
"Not mine."

The overall effect is a dorm-room ambience that is more
adolescent than businesslike. If it weren't for his portfolio, a
list of stocks that fills several screens, winking away in green
and red, the entire scene could be dismissed as standard teen
fantasy, a boy's room with a little more broadband access than is
typical.

Then suddenly MJ is back on the phone. Mark Cuban, who spent his
formative years behind Coke-bottle eyeglasses and silver-capped
teeth, who was part of a clique in his Pittsburgh high school
("Jewish kids who hang out in the library," he says), who sold
powdered milk door-to-door ("the next great growth business, so I
thought"), who still gets e-mails from high school chums
addressed to Boris ("You know how nicknames stick?")--Mark Cuban
straightens in his chair, his soft-soled shoes hitting the deck,
his hands grabbing for the Post-it notes. "MJ!" he exclaims.

Who is to say that, given some stroke of luck or extraordinary
effort, this couldn't happen to you, that you couldn't be sitting
at your desk, overseeing the rehabilitation of a floundering NBA
franchise that you recently bought for $280 million, and Michael
Jordan is on the horn? "Thanks for calling back," Cuban says,
living about three versions of the American Dream all at once.
"Here's what I'd like to do...."

At some point you have to wonder if he hasn't affected this
normalcy as some kind of protective coloration, if he hasn't
cluttered his desk, gotten theatrically tense on the phone with
MJ, dressed down so as to bridge the gap between him and the rest
of the world, a gap created by his $1.2 billion of cyberspace
cash. But Cuban doesn't have that sort of guile or, in any case,
that sort of guilt about his money. He is unapologetic about his
wealth, utterly undefensive. And yet--what makes him
interesting--he is exactly like the rest of us. "Do I have a
butler?" he asks, incredulous. "A cook?"

He marches you through an empty ballroom, a vast and vaulted
space that is used mainly for Wiffle ball, into his kitchen (vast
and vaulted too) and begins opening doors and drawers. Inside the
refrigerator are packages of salad mix and precooked chicken
breasts. Drawers roll out to reveal Dr Pepper and bottled water.
"There's no cook," he says.

The normalcy is not adopted; it's just been impossible to shed.
Yes, he cashed out of the Internet craze with an alltime winning
lottery ticket, but he remains true to himself--to ourselves,
really. The same '96 Lexus SUV remains parked outside Cuban's
house, same one he drove before Broadcast.com went public, before
Yahoo! bought it for $5.7 billion. It remains outside a quite
different kind of single-family residence, we'll give you that,
but Cuban cannot be persuaded by any kind of windfall that he can
drive more than one automobile at once, any more than money can
convince him there is a better meal than a skinless chicken
breast washed down by Dr Pepper.

What is it he did with his money, anyway (forgetting, for the
moment, the most famous house in Dallas since Southfork)? Well,
he bought the jet, but right after that? What was the most
sophisticated investment he could think of? The Mavericks, a
pretty bad basketball team but a pro sports franchise all the
same. All around him the Internet winners were transferring their
money and arrogance to new frontiers, the New New Thing, in hopes
of multiplying their wealth and importance. Cuban bought the
Mavs. He shrugs at the apparent failure of imagination. "I'm a
kid at heart," he says.

Since taking over the team from Ross Perot Jr. last January,
Cuban, still boyish-looking at 42, has been indulging every kid's
dream, wheeling and dealing--"Like guys flipping for cards,
right?" he says--and generally behaving like a fan who won an
Owner for a Day contest. So far, his exuberance has disguised his
ambition for the team, and the early news out of Dallas has
hinted at a new kind of amateur owner, well-meaning and clueless.

That he paid $280 million for an outfit--"This close to being the
Clippers," he admits--that had been founded with an initial
investment of only $13 million in 1980 (and valued at $125
million when Perot bought it in 1996) does not suggest a man much
interested in remaining a billionaire. That his first big move as
owner, taking over the team in midseason, was to hire Dennis
Rodman, inspired more ridicule than confidence. That he installed
Rodman in his guesthouse (until the NBA got wind of the scheme
and ruled it a salary-cap violation) painted an unflattering
picture of the billionaire as jock-sniffer, a portrait to which
an ungrateful Rodman added a few brush strokes, saying, "He
doesn't need to be hanging around the players like he's a
coach.... That's like Jerry Jones, and it's dumb."

All of a sudden, the guy all the Internet geeks appreciated as
someone who could see around corners was thought to have gone
around the bend. He was sitting behind the bench, razzing the
refs ("I'd have no problem being the first owner thrown out of a
game," he says), running up and down the aisles of Reunion Arena,
raising the roof. He put his e-mail address on the scoreboard,
urging fans to give him their input (to the tune of 400 messages
a day, all answered personally).

Then came reports that his players, already members of the most
pampered class of society in all of human history, couldn't be
pampered enough. Cuban was upgrading their luggage and their
hotel accommodations, sending limos to their homes during an ice
storm, offering special meals, ordering special courtside chairs
for the team (home team only), equipping each locker-room cubicle
with a personal stereo, flat-screen monitor, DVD player and Sony
PlayStation. Cuban's first draft trio got rides home from
Minneapolis in his $40 million jet; all the other saps waited to
board in the Northwest terminal. ("We will now board all rookies,
rows nine through 15....")

You could say there is skepticism about the man's effectiveness.
One NBA higher-up told a Dallas newspaper in February that the
Mavs' new owner was a "loose cannon." Other higher-ups, mindful
of Cuban's enthusiasm, have been more forgiving but cautious all
the same. Indiana Pacers president Donnie Walsh says, "The
problem with Mark is, he might force us to go out and do those
things [for our players]. But, in the meantime, my one comment to
him is, I don't think there are any stupid people in this
league."

Jerry Reynolds, director of player personnel for the Sacramento
Kings, takes a similar patronizing approach to Cuban: "I am
impressed and think that, with his passion, he'll be good for the
league. And I do think some things will happen in Dallas that
will be pretty good ideas. Also, my guess, there'll be some
'Oops!'"

Cuban gets mixed reviews, too, for his newcomer's bravado. The
number of people whose asses he has vowed to whip might be in
double figures by now. Most of them (like his pal Jordan) react
with amusement. Last February, Philadelphia 76ers owner (and
martial arts expert) Pat Croce got word through the newspapers
that he was next in line, so at their first meeting, he asked
Cuban to set a date. Cuban backed off, and the two have become
good friends. "He'll make outrageous statements for effect," says
Croce. "He doesn't care. Maybe it's all those commas."

He probably goes too far sometimes, such as this summer when he
took Phil Jackson's bait and got into a little brawl with the
Lakers. The L.A. coach, who figures it's never too early in the
year to get into somebody's head, included Cuban in some
off-season criticism of big-spending owners who "don't want to
play by the rules of the game." Cuban bit, accusing the Lakers
(in an equally unsupportable broadside, considering Shaquille
O'Neal's subsequent three-year, $88.4 million contract extension)
of "putting their profits in their pockets while complaining
about how other teams spend their money."

Said Jackson, upping the level of discourse, "Cuban has his head
up his ass again." It went from there, until each side seemed to
agree to let the whole thing dissolve into proper silliness,
almost good fun. Jackson admitted, "We're basically venting hot
air." However, it had to encourage Cuban that the mighty Lakers
were impressed enough with his efforts to lay the groundwork for
future feuds. How nice to be considered a rival again!

Sometimes, maybe because of all those commas, the criticism is
just mean-spirited. The New York Post's Peter Vecsey established
himself as a thorn in Cuban's side in July, accusing Easy Mark of
saving money on his wardrobe--"dressing like a slob"--so he could
buy a championship. Vecsey has kept it up, taking regular
potshots at Cuban.

If any of this stings Cuban, it never shows. Portraits of him as
a needy billionaire, desperate to imagine his team's cheers as
his own, don't do justice to a fairly centered guy who is
combative enough to go against the grain. Put it this way: We
won't be seeing Cuban in Armani soon. Moreover, as much as we
might hold him up to ridicule (My Lord! He added $10.3 million in
cash to trades this summer!), he's not going to curb his
spending. "Oh, I'm a knucklehead," he says. "Here's what else I
did that got everybody nervous. I bought towels."

Thinking back to when he came to Dallas, in 1982, selling
software, one of six guys sleeping in a rowdy bachelor apartment,
Cuban remembered his first taste of luxury. With a commission
check of $1,500, he bought towels, plush, oversized and
expensive. Now, as the new owner of a basketball team, he noticed
the talent was rubbing down with flimsy 49-cent NBA rags, and he
remembered how that felt. He bought $20 towels, virtual velour,
with the Mavs' logo on them, and hung them not only in his team's
locker room but also in the visitors'--"knowing," he says, "they'd
all be stolen."

It was guerrilla marketing in an age of free agency, and it was
memorable and it was cheap. Would a player actually consider
playing for the Mavericks because they had great towels? Probably
not, Cuban admits, "but it's the kind of thing a free agent might
remember."

Anyway, he says, "with a $40 million payroll, I'd be shocked if I
spent even $100,000 on stuff like that. Take luggage. I saw our
10-day guys carrying their clothes in plastic grocery bags. It
cost me $400 a guy to get them nice suitcases."

It's a fairly inexpensive gesture. Others might be more
expensive, like planning for individual showers for the players
or, for that matter, hiring an unheard-of array of assistant
coaches--three No. 1's, each earning $500,000 to $800,000. But, as
Cuban likes to say, losing is what's really expensive.
"Everything I do is about taking away excuses," he says. "A
player can't get enough sleep because he has a foam pillow? We
upgrade hotels on the road." (Ritz-Carltons in five cities, Four
Seasons in four others.)

In other words, there's a new way of doing business in Dallas,
where the Mavs were run, as even Perot would admit, as a piece of
real estate. Perot retains an investment in the team, but he's
bet most of his nickels on the development of property around the
soon-to-be-built American Airlines Center, home to the Mavs and
the NHL's Dallas Stars. Cuban, on the other hand, is not treating
the Mavs as a holding, as some piece in his financial puzzle.
"Let's put it this way," he says. "I don't have an exit
strategy."

This passion has earned him, if nothing else, his peers' respect.
"He will improve his franchise, because of that enthusiasm," says
the Pacers' Walsh. "It's good to have an owner come in with that
excitement." Adds the Kings' Reynolds, surveying the high-priced
moves Cuban made during the off-season: "He's made his team
better in every area--talent, operations, it's all stronger. And
interest is higher."

That's where he's getting his greatest value: gathering
attention, scaring up ticket sales, which are the best they've
been in years, having surpassed last year's season-ticket total
by August. See, for all his seemingly wacky spending, Cuban is
treating this as a business, not some vanity production. "Am I
crazy to spend $45 million [what it might have cost to acquire
Shawn Kemp, whom he pursued this summer] in contracts when I have
the chance to get three layers deep into the playoffs? That's
dirt cheap. I'll sell more seats, more merchandise--believe me,
the numbers work, especially for us. Other teams that sell out,
that get great TV ratings, make it to the conference finals,
maybe their economics are different. The only place we can go is
up. That's why I think I bought low."

Cuban is aware that his willingness to spend freely makes him an
Easy Mark around the league, and he figures other teams' general
managers will count on his fiscal innocence. "I know what these
guys see," he says, "is a guy walking into a room with money
falling out his pockets, saying, 'Where's the game, and what are
the rules?' That's me. And they probably can take advantage of me
to a certain extent. I might overpay. But remember, I'm not all
that at risk. Let's say I'm worth $1.1 billion--it's more--and
through a series of incredibly moronic moves, I lose $100
million. Oh, gee! What does that leave me?"

Not that he expects to lose $100 million (that's a lot of luggage
and towels), just that he's willing to absorb a few blows on the
way to a championship. "Like this luxury tax," he says, citing
the NBA's new levy. "Some teams have said they won't pay it. You
know what, if I can get Shawn Kemp, I don't care about the luxury
tax. I'll pay it."

All that money insulates him from the consequences of folly, but
even so, he doesn't plan to play the fool. Kevin O'Connor, G.M.
of the Utah Jazz, might have disparaged Cuban after the Rodman
fiasco, but when O'Connor worked out a trade with the Mavs in
August, he emerged fairly respectful. "He started with an offer
we didn't like," says O'Connor, who was surprised to be dealing
with the owner himself, "and we said no. But he had a focus. He
said, 'Let's figure out a way to make this deal.' He had a
ceiling, but he wasn't going to nickel-and-dime us. He wasn't
going to let it collapse over $10,000. Another thing: He'd done
his homework. He was prepared, a real Boy Scout. In the end he
got a player we weren't going to sign [Eisley], and we got a
player out of it [Bruno Sundov]."

Don Nelson, the Mavs' coach and G.M., who was in China during
that negotiation, is likewise open-minded about his new boss's
methods. He admits he might not have been secure enough earlier
in his career to allow the owner to lean over his shoulder during
timeouts, but hey, the guy wants to learn, not meddle. "Let him
see what really goes on," Nelson says. "Anyway, this guy is a
breath of fresh air. This is the most fun I've had in my career."

Nelson appreciates the owner's willingness to spend money. "I
don't want to say the other guys I worked for were stingy," says
Nelson, who has coached the Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State
Warriors and New York Knicks, "but there were times when money
was a huge factor in not making deals. This situation is
different. He thinks, To make money you have to spend money."

Nelson is also intrigued by Cuban's constant brainstorming--"a
hundred ideas a day," the coach says. "Well, maybe not 100. But a
lot. I get three to four e-mails from him a day. He's always
thinking."

Cuban is from an environment in which thinking is more prized
than it is in the NBA, an environment in which change is
necessary, not dangerous. In Cuban's old world the status quo was
the business plan for disaster. "In the NBA there's the feeling
the industry's going strong, there's nothing to fear," he says.
"Like Wang had nothing to fear, like Seagate had nothing to
fear." His thinking is, if the NBA keeps going on the way it is,
it will be delisted from the stock exchange.

In fact, the NBA has discouraged radical change with a set of
rules designed to preserve the game as it is. Its strange
vocabulary--salary caps, first-year exceptions--enforces a rigid
way of conducting business. There is no fast and easy way to
accrue advantage. Cuban understands this, although he can't help
but lament the league's relative civilization. "In the Internet,
you make the rules," he says. "Here you spend your days and
nights learning them."

On the other hand, he agrees, it's saner in the NBA: "When you
run into a little problem in the Internet, whoops, that's $6
billion down the drain. You screw up here, they let you draft
again--higher!"

Still, he's frustrated that all his ideas, which were celebrated
in the Internet industry, percolate to no appreciable effect in
the NBA. Like, why not chart the refs' tendencies, lay them out
in some program to which every coach would have access, the
better to temper the play? The NBA's not interested. "I'll do it
myself," he says, "but then I'll have the advantage."

Or scouting: Why isn't all this film digitized, so a coach
sitting on a plane headed to Minneapolis can call up a player and
situation on his laptop? Wouldn't that make life easier for
everybody? Or Cuban's statistical analysis program, cooked up
with an Indiana University professor, that ranks performance
relative to situation, telling you who the clutch players are
(and against whom, and when) instead of merely their scoring
average--wouldn't that kind of info be fun to have when angling
for players?

The money guys might be more happily informed by Cuban's
particular genius than the hoops people. Tom Hicks, the Dallas
mogul who owns the Stars and the Texas Rangers, likes hearing
from Cuban, his cotenant in the new arena. Hicks backed Cuban in
the purchase of the Mavs, bringing him together with Perot,
perhaps remembering how Hicks's "relatively small investment" of
$2 million in Cuban's start-up (then called AudioNet) turned into
$50 million. Cuban has peppered Hicks with ideas for the arena,
"bringing a heightened focus on technology," Hicks says. "We're
spending $340 million to build the nicest hockey-basketball arena
in the world, of classic design and in a beautiful setting. When
Mark joined, he helped put some fancy bells and whistles in it."

Cuban's idea is to wire the whole thing, creating an
ultrabroadband environment with 100 mbs to every seat, then
charging companies like IBM and Texas Instruments a minimum of
$500,000 to use the arena as if it were a giant science lab, with
Cuban delivering 18,000 subjects to the great experiment. The
arena, Cuban says, would be "the ultimate place to demonstrate
technology to customers and to let consumers experience the
future of technology." It would be Tomorrowland, plus you might
get a glimpse of Shaq when he comes to visit (and download stats,
highlights and his contract extension).

Anybody who knows Cuban ought to be prepared for lots more
innovation, because he is one of those freaks of business who can
see the future and make it pay. On some level it's basic
entrepreneurship, as he showed when he was a kid and his hometown
paper, the Pittsburgh Press, went on strike, and he and a buddy
drove to Cleveland to collect the Plain Dealer for resale. But he
also has this ability to understand the gap between consumer
demand and technological capacity--and close it. "He was always
one step ahead," says his younger brother Brian.

For instance, who could have dreamed that turning a $3,000
computer into a $4 radio would pay off to the tune of $5.7
billion? That was Cuban's (and partner Todd Wagner's)
masterstroke, but it was born of a lifetime of hustle, not only
generating ideas but also profiting from them. Because when you
get right down to it, Cuban is not so much an Internet genius,
writing some tricky code, as he is a salesman, the kind of guy
who worked his way through college offering disco lessons,
selling collectors' stamps, promoting parties, selling garbage
bags.

The garbage bags might be the most important entry in his
curriculum vitae: how he asked his dad, an auto upholsterer and
the child of Russian-Jewish immigrants, for money to buy a pair
of Pumas and got a sales route instead. Norton Cuban (shortened
from Chobanisky) told the youngster that when it came to matters
beyond room and board, he was on his own. "When you make your own
money," Norton said, "you can do whatever you want."

So the youngster went door-to-door--"Who doesn't need garbage
bags?" he says--and learned the real meaning of money. In the
Cuban business legend that meaning has been misinterpreted over
and over, no thanks to Cuban's childlike glorying in his wealth
(some might say flouting of it, but that's not right either).
Money is not his way of keeping score either, as he's told
profilers, or even a way to check off items on his NFW list (as
in "My own jet? No f------ way"). "It's all about freedom," he
says. Freedom to buy Pumas if he wants, to sit by the pool and
read a book, to own his own team. If you have money, you don't
need to ask for permission for anything.

He was kind of good at selling too. "It was easy when I realized
it wasn't about taking something from somebody, but about
helping," he says. "If I can help you, you'll buy from me. I've
always been the best salesman everywhere I've been. Whatever I
was selling, I believed in."

Cuban used the money to purchase even more freedom when he
plunked down tuition for Indiana University, the least expensive
on a top 10 list of business schools he came across. What he was
buying, besides education, was freedom from his old self, "the
short, fat kid who wasn't getting any easy dates," as he puts it.
He undertook a total self-improvement program--physical, mental
and social--"to become whatever I wanted, to control my destiny."

He lost weight, joined a rugby team, ran for freshman dorm
president (and won). He constantly pushed. Since he was too young
to drink, he took the hardest courses first, figuring he wouldn't
be as attentive once he came of age. He took MBA classes right
out of the box, until a dean busted him down to undergraduate
courses. When he came of drinking age, he found a way to make
that pay, too. Having run out of stamp and garbage-bag money,
Cuban began promoting parties at the Bloomington National Guard
Armory and, finally, running an off-campus bar, Motley's Pub.

He was at loose ends for a while after he graduated, ending up in
Dallas ("Sunshine and women," he says) and getting in on the
ground floor of the PC revolution in the early '80s. At first
that meant selling software, but Cuban was too ambitious for just
that. Armed with technical manuals, he learned how computers
worked. (If one thing explains his success and continues to
define him, it is the drive to be the smartest guy in any room.
Cuban is paralyzed by the thought of knowing less than the next
guy--"so I work harder than anybody," he says.) By mid-1983 he had
set up his own consulting business, MicroSolutions, and he built
it into an outfit that CompuServe would swallow in 1990, making
Cuban a multimillionaire (and a lot of his profit-sharing
employees rich as well).

So what does a 31-year-old multimillionaire do? He's not rich
enough to buy a team. But if he wants to explore the idea of
self-improvement, he can move to Los Angeles, trade stocks all
morning ("I was day-trading before day-trading was cool," he
says), take acting classes in the afternoon ("making out with
starlets; it was O.K.") and do what 31-year-olds do at night. He
even appeared in a couple of movies, but he did not get the Taco
Bell commercial he auditioned for, wearing a big sombrero.

He returned to Dallas in 1994, hoping to repair an old romantic
relationship, and was idling around when Todd Wagner, a friend
from Indiana University who'd become a lawyer, asked him what it
would take to get Hoosiers basketball broadcasts piped into
Dallas. Not that much, as it turned out. With Wagner acting as
detail man ("Mark was the guy who'd stand on top of the ship and
say, 'Let's go to Italy,'" Wagner recalls, "and I was the guy who
figured out how to get us there"), Cuban was set loose to create
a way to bring radio to the Internet. It wasn't groundbreaking
work, merely clever. Cuban didn't even have to write the code,
just integrate existing programs and make it all work. "What
people don't understand about Mark," says Wagner, "is how
brilliant he is. He will outwork and outthink you every time. You
can send him an e-mail at 4 a.m. and get an answer immediately.
He's a winner."

AudioNet became an Internet campfire story, the sort of tale the
nerds might tell each other to keep their hopes up. Starting with
one Dallas station, Cuban set up a computer in an extra bedroom
and began, sort of, broadcasting. Glitches became part of the
story, such as when AudioNet went off the air and an employee had
to break into Cuban's house to reboot the computer. But within a
year 80 more stations had signed up, and workers around the world
had found that they could get Indiana basketball--and the Super
Bowl and the World Series--on their computers at work.

The company went public as Broadcast.com and added video,
videoconferencing and other streaming capabilities to its array
of services. By the time it broadcast a Victoria's Secret runway
show in 1999, overloading Internet servers when 1.5 million
people logged on, the company was up for grabs. Yahoo! grabbed,
paying off not only Cuban and Wagner but also the company's
employees, because all of them had joined as part owners. More
than 300 of the 330 employees became millionaires with the
transaction, Cuban and Wagner making $1.2 billion apiece in
Yahoo! stock. (Cuban's worth has since been estimated at twice
that.) "You know how dotcoms went crazy for a while?" Cuban says.
"We were the first. Who knows why."

Although Cuban and Wagner were driven during the buildup of the
company--"I busted my ass," Cuban says. "Seven years without a
vacation"--he does not share his fellow moguls' belief that
success on such a surreal scale automatically belonged to them.
"I'm the luckiest mother in the world," he says. He knew that the
Internet boom was preposterous and artificial and that the bubble
would burst. When he was finally allowed to sell his Yahoo!
stock--there was a six-month waiting period for insiders--he
diversified his holdings so thoroughly that, he says, "Even if
the stock goes to zero, there'll still be a big ol' B next to my
name."

The question of what he'd do next was part of the story in an
industry that keeps careful tabs on winners and losers. For
Wagner, it was retirement to a life of creative philanthropy. For
most other successful entrepreneurs it was launching the New New
Thing. For Cuban, it was time to move on.

He knew that repeating his success was unlikely--and pointless.
What could he achieve? Another billion? Internet mortality? "I
thought about that," he says, laughing. "Let's see, on the one
hand, going down in history. On the other, liquidity. See ya!"

Where to go? He had an idea. First there was the matter of the
house, a $25 million hunk of property in an obscenely developed
section of Preston Hollow. Cuban got it for $15 million because a
Houston banker had failed to hedge his own bets and had to sell
the place in distress. The house--the mansion--is more trophy than
home. At times he tries to offer reasons why he needed such a
house, but each is lamer than the next ("I wanted a place where
the players, who are usually the richest people they know, can
come and be wowed"), and he knows it. Finally he admits, "It's
sick."

What's really sick, almost everybody agrees, is the lack of
furniture. The house is basically a shell, allowing Cuban's
biographers to draw metaphorical conclusions that read well but
are far-fetched. "I don't think it necessarily means my life is
empty," Cuban says, "only that I don't need furniture." Anyway,
if his life were so empty, it wouldn't contain his girlfriend,
Tiffany Stewart, an advertising executive who reportedly finds
life in the architectural sprawl a little frustrating. He needed
such a house because he had a billion dollars. There's a
metaphorical conclusion in there somewhere.

Same with the Gulfstream, which he ordered over the Internet.
That was on his NFW list. But at least he fills up the jet,
usually with his buddies, fellow fortysomethings who are always
up for a jaunt to Vegas or the Super Bowl.

But he wasn't going to spend the rest of his life only buying
things. It wasn't as if money was going to buy him happiness,
because he was always happy. Dysfunctional, maybe, in all but
business, he admits. But happy. "You know what they called me in
college?" he asks. "Smiley."

What he would do, finally, was buy his hometown team, the one he
and his bachelor buds cheered for so lustily in the '80s, and
retrieve it from its embarrassing state, in which it couldn't
sell out a home opener. That was next on the NFW list. Buy a
team.

So Mark Cuban has everything he wants, almost. "Stuffwise," as he
says, he's certainly there. Maybe a home in Miami (he has places
in New York and Los Angeles), and he'd be all covered homewise.
"A better three-point shot," he suggests, though he's working on
that.

It wasn't the same thrill as when Broadcast.com, priced at $18 a
share, hit $72 in one afternoon, but he recently beat former NBA
sharpshooter Kiki Vandeweghe in a game of horse. "Once," Cuban
says. In August he spent a week at Michael Jordan's camp, for
which he paid $15,000 to remind Jordan that he was the poorest
guy on the court. In Cuban's world, that was the most bang for
the buck he could ever negotiate.

What more could a young billionaire want? He's thinking about a
new enterprise, a record label that, he says, should "blow up the
record industry." But he's not really interested in going back to
work, not that way. Better to sit tight and see what comes along.
As Cuban has learned, funny things can happen.

Recently the people from Oprah called and wanted to know if he'd
like to be on the show. "Hell, yeah!" he said. What's My Line
called. "Hell, yeah!" Be in a movie? "Hell, yeah!" Walker, Texas
Ranger? "Hell, yeah!" Prince Charles invited Cuban to a
fund-raiser in Buckingham Palace. "That's not a 'Hell, yeah!' in
my book."

In his office the phone rings from time to time, a G.M. from Utah
or Golden State, or it's MJ. That's exciting, trying to hammer
out a deal with MJ, something the fat kid in the Pittsburgh
library never imagined. Who knows what the future holds, when you
think how wild the present has turned out to be? "Standing in the
middle of Reunion Arena, introducing your team before a sellout
crowd at a playoff game against the Lakers," Cuban says, "that
would be a 'Hell, yeah!' wouldn't it?"

MJ is on the horn again. "How do you like this G.M. stuff?" Cuban
says, less tense this time around. Then down to business, to
selling, to doing what he does best: making dreams come true--his,
everybody's, it hardly matters anymore: "Listen, you're looking
for a power guy? Can I help you? Can I help you?"

He props his (soft-soled) shoes on the computer winking red and
green, and he smiles. Hell, yeah!

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JEFFREY LOWE DRESSED FOR SUCCESS Every day is Casual Friday in the computer-heavy disaster area that serves as Cuban's office in his Dallas mansion.TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JEFFREY LOWECOLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHOCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JEFFREY LOWE CABANA BOY Cuban first bought the Mavs plush towels and then splurged on the latest audio and video hardware for players' lockers.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JEFFREY LOWE BON APPETIT, Y'ALL The marble floor and crystal chandelier notwithstanding, Cuban eats frozen food and drinks Dr Pepper.
"Do I have a butler?" he asks, incredulous. He marches you
through an empty ballroom, a vast and vaulted space used mainly
for Wiffle ball.
Cuban has been indulging every kid's dream, wheeling and dealing
and generally behaving like a fan who won an Owner for a Day
contest.
"I wanted a house where the players can be wowed," Cuban says,
but he knows that's a lame excuse. Finally he admits, "It's
sick."
"Say I'm worth $1.1 billion, and through a series of incredibly
moronic moves, I lose $100 million," Cuban says. "Oh, gee! What
does that leave me?"
Cuban is not treating the Mavs as a holding, as some piece of
his financial puzzle. "Let's put it this way," he says. "I don't
have an exit strategy."
Cuban's passion has earned him the respect of his peers. "He's
made his team better in every area," says Reynolds, "and
interest is higher."