King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Mark Cuban on his new hip, the Mavericks' new point guard and the future of sports-fan technology.


King Kaufman
March 10, 2008 2:00PM (UTC)

Dallas Mavericks owner, blogger, billionaire entrepreneur and hip-replacement patient Mark Cuban was in San Francisco last week to speak to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons about his new joint, which he says makes him feel "20 years younger." So that'd be 29, about five years younger than he looks.

Why? "Well," he said in a brief interview in a hotel conference room, "you get a hip replaced, and seven weeks later to be on 'Dancing With the Stars.' I think there's a lot of people out there that are in comparable situations. You know, something hurts, and you've got to make that decision point, you need to go through the surgery and go through it all. I guess I'm a testimonial that there's a reason to do it."

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He said his hip problem stemmed from years of playing rugby and other sports, and that he had the surgery not so much to get back to playing -- "but I am going to play again" -- but to keep up with his kids, who are 4 and 1. "If they're running around and I'm, 'Wait a second, wait a second, wait a second.' You know, 'Help Dad up.' That sucks."

Cuban, his new hip and his dance partner, Kym Johnson, didn't win "Dancing With the Stars." Perhaps an NBA title for the Mavs would ease that pain. To that end, the Mavs took their turn as a Western Conference powerhouse making a blockbuster trade last month, sending a passel of money and players to New Jersey for 35-year-old future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd.

A handler cracking the whip about time, I asked Cuban about that trade, hardcore fans and how technology is changing the sports landscape.

You just made the big trade. Are you kind of going all in with it? You feel you're increasing the chances but shortening the window?

No, because how many times have we reinvented this team? You know, you lose a guy [Steve Nash] that your coach says may be too old and don't give him a long-term contract, then he goes on to win two MVPs -- but two years later we're in the Finals. We bring in Antawn Jamison and Antoine Walker. Doesn't work. We get Jason Terry and Erick Dampier and it works.

How involved are you with the actual basketball decisions, like let's get Jason Kidd, yes or no. I imagine you have the yes or no --

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I have the yes or no because of the money. I'm the keeper of the long term vs. the short term, and the pocketbook. But in terms of who and which player, that's Donnie and A.J. [general manager Donnie Nelson and coach Avery Johnson]. Because Donnie's gotta like 'em and A.J.'s gotta want to play 'em.

Would you say you are a big fan first, and that's why you became an owner?

Yeah, absolutely.

You're the perfect person to ask this. I think there's a trend in the last however many years -- 12, 17 and a half -- big fans tend to get kind of mowed over on the way to sports leagues, clubs and networks reaching for the casual fan. They know: I'm a big fan, say I'm a Mets fan. Almost anything they're going to do, I will come to the Mets game, I will buy the Mets hat --

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I don't see that at all.

You don't see that?

New York's a different market.

Well, not Mets. OK. Anybody. If you want to watch three hours of Olympic action, you've got to sit through 90 minutes of "Up Close and Personal" so they can get the non-sports fans to sit in front of it.

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No, that's an economics issue with the Olympics. The Olympics are something different. That's a made-for-TV event.

Sure, but I mean, I can sit here and give you a bunch of examples.

Sure, I don't --

My NFL home team plays a game in London instead of one of only eight they play in my town. ESPN is more about reality shows than sports --

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I don't see it that way at all. I think it's more, you know, television's got to fill their hours. Sports leagues want to expand their fan base. I don't think it's about, "Well, we know these people are so committed as Mets, Mavs or whatever fans that we can do anything we want."

No, because just compare the television ratings for sports this year vs. 20 years ago. There's so many choices. Obviously, I mean, you know the Net. There's so many choices that everything's diluted, so you actually have got to work harder. If anything, we're kind of TiVo-proof, and that kind of differentiates us in a lot of respects.

Who's us?

Sports. But no, I mean, you can't shit on your fans. That's the damn truth, and you can't take 'em for granted. You can go through team after team after team after team. Look at Arizona. They're in the NFL but they're not exactly selling out their games. Well, now they are because they just got the new arena. But you get the point. There's no gimmes and you can't take anything for granted.

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There's probably no other sentiment that comes to me from my readers more than that one. "They're pushing past us to get people who don't care to care a little, because they know we're going to care."

Well, I think where fans get upset sometimes is just because of pricing pressures. With the Mavs, we've lowered our prices in the upper bowl I think every year for the past three or four years. I can't speak for anybody else, but I make sure I sit in the top row to know what the experience is like. Eat the nachos, drink the beer. Actually, I don't mind that.

You've mentioned TiVo and the Net. I want to ask you about technology. How do you see it changing sports fandom and where do you see sports fandom being in 10 years?

It just depends where. It changes based off the location. So the experience of sitting in front of the TV with TiVo and everything else is going to be completely different. And where the most dramatic change is going to be is [that] … televisions are getting bigger and cheaper; you'll be able to change the experience while you're sitting in the living room.

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So you can buy at Amazon, I think, a 70-inch Mitsubishi for $2,400. That means next year it'll be $1,800 and, you know, that whole curve. So at some point you'll say, "You know what, I'm happy watching the game on 50 inches, and I want replays, stats or whatever." Kind of like a desktop would be, relative to your application. That'll be user-controlled. So that'll be one way.

Then, in the arena, you never want somebody heads down when the game's going on. So we're talking with Apple and different vendors about saying, "OK, with Wi-Fi-enabled devices, can I prompt people, kind of like Mobisode-type stuff, where people instead of converging on one given spot, they're converging on one specific action.

So, Warriors are playing in Dallas and Baron Davis is going to the free-throw line, and everybody gets the same message that says, "OK, scream, 'Hallelujah!'" You know? So you do different types of things because it becomes more of a communal experience. That's where I see things are going in terms of in-arena events.

And then there's 3-D. There's watching it in movie theaters because it's a communal experience again.

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I think people have always looked at technology to be informational and driving choices, and we're already past that and we've seen what it's done to the music business. It's killed it. So you've got to say, "What makes it more communal?" Social networks have taken their place, but that's already old news. The Internet side's already old news. What's the next level? Where are other things?

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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