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Basketball

Mark Cuban Telegraphed His Play

The 65-year-old’s sale of the Mavericks seems a whole lot less shocking once you travel back in a time a year.
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He'll still be coming out in the tunnel. It's just not his tunnel anymore. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In hindsight, the most important non sequitur of the decade in Dallas sports occurred last December during a conversation between Mark Cuban and the Dallas Morning News’ Brad Townsend, when the 65-year-old billionaire was mapping out his vision for the team’s next arena. Presuming sports gambling gets legalized in Texas, “the mission,” as Cuban called it, was to build a new arena within a resort and casino, an idea that Townsend used as a launching point to explore the viability of legalized sports gambling and the ramifications throughout the area.

But embedded in Cuban’s game plan was a line that wound up being very telling. Here’s the full quote:

“My goal—and we’d partner with Las Vegas Sands—is when we build a new arena, it’ll be in the middle of a resort and casino,” Cuban said. “That’s the mission.”

Note the third through ninth words of that opening sentence. Cuban could have delivered the broad strokes and adjourn his audience to decide for itself whether the whole idea skewed more cutting edge or dystopian. (The answer is “yes.”) Instead, he shoehorned a specific casino partner into the quote, which is peculiar enough to make Spidey Senses tingle—or it would have been, were we not dealing with Mark Cuban, whose id is so embedded in the Mavericks that it can be difficult to tell where the man stops and the team begins. Who famously said “I’m turning down anything” to sell the franchise.

In the end, he did not. As Marc Stein first reported, Cuban will sell his controlling share in the franchise to Miriam Adelson, widow of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and the largest shareholder in—wait for it—Sands, which started in Las Vegas and now own properties in Singapore and Macau. For his troubles, Cuban will net around $2 billion, a robust profit on the $285 million he invested in 2000. He’ll somehow also retain full control over basketball operations, which is a little like flipping your house with the provision that you continue to occupy the master bedroom.

It’s difficult to imagine that control being totally immutable, considering Cuban no longer holds the Mavericks’ cards. (It does have some stickiness, though, and explains the discount Cuban took; Forbesmost recent franchise valuations had pegged the Mavericks as worth $4.5 billion, but the valuation in the sale was set around $3.5 billion.)

Regardless, until the day comes when he does lose influence, the upshot is he got handed a skyscraper-sized stack of money without compromising the most influential—and, let’s face it, fun—part of an owner’s job. Most important, this effectively guaranteed that whenever the gambling laws do change, development of the Mavs’ exciting/depressing/revolutionary/exploitive? arena will soon follow, which figures to net Cuban billions of dollars more. And if you really want to burrow into this, one can fund quite the presidential campaign with $2 billion. Cuban has professed no interest in running in 2024, not that anyone is liable to take blanket denials seriously from a man who just reneged on his greatest one of all.

It is a hell of a financial coup, one that could someday unseat the Broadcast.com sale as the most significant of his business career. But stunning as it is, we probably shouldn’t have been so surprised. Mark Cuban told us his true plan a while ago. Yesterday was just the first step in realizing it.

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Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

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Mike Piellucci is D Magazine's sports editor. He is a former staffer at The Athletic and VICE, and his freelance…

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