It’s Been A Bad Year For Mavericks

20 Nov

Cuban

This week’s news that the SEC has charged Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban with insider trading feels like it was inevitable; it’s one of those punctuation marks that’s part of a coda for the last eight years. It wasn’t that his business practices had changed; it was that the culture had. Cuban’s always had a legendary reputation for boorish behavior that was bound to spill into his business ethics. The only question was when someone would call him on it.

It wasn’t going to be David Stern. Cuban’s earned his rep as the NBA’s enfant terrible by racking up over a million dollars1 worth of fines for questioning the integrity of league’s officiating,2 insulting Stern, and throwing on-court tantrums that have interfered with his team.

Of course, what else do you expect from an Ayn Rand-worshipping Libertarian? Cuban vocally supported Bush in 2004, but claimed that he was not a Republican. Of course he’s not. Libertarians never identify as Republicans, but seem to vote for them every election. Surely it’s coincidence. Just like there’s no atheists in foxholes, Libertarians tend to make themselves scare in times of crisis. In 2004, when the Mavericks were a true Western Conference power, his business acumen was unquestioned (his next target? the film industry3), and his preferred politician was puffing his chest out after a resounding mandate for his war, Cuban looked like a winner. Now that the free-market evangelism of the last eight years has been thoroughly discredited, privatizing social security doesn’t look like such a swell idea. The captains of industry and finance who had sided with the GOP to stick it to needy welfare queens were now lining up for the federal dole themselves.

“Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, at least it’s an ethos.”

-Walter Sobchak, The Big Lebowski

And no matter how vile the overriding philosophy behind the Republican Party may be, at least many of them honestly believe their policies will reduce poverty, bring about peace, and create a fairer society. Libertarians don’t believe any of this. They don’t care. It’s a mindset crystalized at age 6, when they’re told “no” by a parent and never get over the injustice of this. It’s a political philosophy based around the ethos of I’ll eat ice cream for dinner, and stay up as late as I want, and if you won’t let me, you’re a Nazi.

And when combined with a personality as defiant as Cuban’s, it’s a pretty lethal combination. His contempt towards the basic norms of the NBA made him seem like a folk hero at first, fighting against a buttoned-down league that’s occasionally tried to legislate the fun out of basketball. But as his act wore thin, it became clear that it was never about fighting a broken system, it was about indulging Cuban’s need to act out. Even before he bought the Mavericks, when he made the billions that gave him this soapbox in the first place, the ink was barely dry on his deal with Yahoo before he was bragging about how badly he’d ripped them off. Good luck getting a second sale out of them. When he started a website designed to bring down companies’ stock prices so he could profit off a short sale, no one was buying his posture as a crusader against corporate corruption. It’s not like he had a working model for how to run an ethical business. He just wanted to make a quick buck, destroy a few companies as a show of power, and if cornered, claim that the victims had it coming. It was never ethical, but it would figure that someone with as much to lose as Cuban would do his due diligence as to whether it was legal. By taunting the SEC just as he’d taunted Yahoo and David Stern, he got his answer. It’s tragic, but predictable. And he’s about to go to a court where it’s a lot harder to bully the refs with a blog post.

1 Conservative estimates have it at $1.65 million.
2 He famously claimed that the head of officiating “wouldn’t be able to manage a Dairy Queen.”
3 This also hasn’t worked out so well.

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