Full Contact: I'll Take A Cuban! 6/26/2006

I'll take a Cuban!

Usually I say that when I'm hanging out with friends, wrapped in a high-back leather chair, drinking martini's at Del Frisco's, in Dallas. As a former professional athlete, when I'm thinking of whom I'd like to play for, I'd say it again, only this time I'd put a "Mark" in front of it.

What's the big hubbub about the way Mark Cuban acted in the NBA Finals and playoffs?  So he's animated, so he's a fan of the game, so he's in the ref's face. The net of it is, he wants to win and has a completely different style than the rest of the NBA owners.

I've had the opportunity of working for two super owners with two completely different styles of ownership and both in a different galaxy than Cubans'.

One was William Clay Ford, as in "Ford," that is parked in your driveway.  Mr. Ford was a quiet gentleman, whom we rarely saw, except on game day or a special event.  He was so removed from day-to-day operations, that when we wrote him a letter, to keep Wayne Fonts on as Head Coach, the hardest part was where to send the letter so that he could read it in a timely fashion.

When I was traded to the Redskins, Jack Kent Cooke was The Man!  He was an old crusty, billionaire who would try to be at practice every day, rain, sleet or snow. He would sit right on the field, right at the 50-yard mark, with his half-his-age wife, wearing her exotic furs and holding the miniature, Paris Hilton-ish, style puppy in her lap.

On my first day with the 'Skins, Joe Gibbs introduced me to Mr. Cooke.  I remember it like it was yesterday; "Son, you better play your ass off for me."  I squeaked out a manly, "Yes sir!"  He followed with a, "Welcome to the 'Skins!" and he walked away.

Whether you're an employee of a company or a professional athlete, there is so much more to doing your job than the fact that they are paying you a salary; regardless of how much it is.  Did you know that in America, salary is third on the list of reasons a person will stay and excel with a certain company or organization?  The first two have nothing to do with money; it's all about feeling valued and being recognized.

That brings me back to Mark Cuban.  He takes care of his players; he makes sure they know they are valued!  In turn, his players take care of him.  He takes care of them probably better than any other owner, in any other sport.  But, that's why he'll get the most out of his players. When the ankle is swollen and you're on the fence about taking the week off, it's that relationship between the owner-to-the player or coach-to-the player that helps you push your body, when most of civilization would be in a cast; it all starts and ends with the ownership/leadership.

A couple of my favorite quotes from my father are, "You rest in reason and move in passion." And, "The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree." Amen, Pop!  Mark Cuban is the tree of the Mavericks and it's throwing off passion fruit to his players and the city of Dallas.

Do you remember, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom?  That's my best analogy of professional sports ownership. The old guy, Marlin Perkins, would be out in the dangers of Africa, looking for lions and tigers, etc?  I kind of make a joke about it now, because it was the guy he called, "Jim," who was in the fray with the hired hands, wrestling the savage beasts.  Marlin would just narrate from the safety of his bungalow/luxury suite, with toddy in hand. Very few owners, like Mark Cuban, can wear the title of, "Jim."

As a player, that's what you want! You want a guy who is in the trenches with you. Who hurts when you hurt and cries when you cry. The type of owner that doesn't say, "I'll meet you at the car" when a bar fight breaks out.

Does his passion overflow sometimes? Yes, it's going to do that from time to time.  But, as a player or coach, which problem would you rather have?  Just a guess, but  I think Avery Johnson would much rather have to kick Mr. Cuban out of a time-out huddle or pull Stackhouse away from a  third quarter, billionaire-coaching clinic now and again, verses if he had to constantly beg him to just to engage.

So, to all of you professional sport owners like a Mark Cuban or a Paul Allen, owner of the Seattle Seahawks; have fun and keep it coming. The players love the way you're treating them and it will pay off in loyalty and championship rings in the near future. Personally, I just wish more of your peers would see the value and come join the party.