DALLAS – It was Jan. 4, 2000, and the Dallas Mavericks were in Denver doing battle against the Denver Nuggets.
Word was spreading like wildfire throughout the game that the Mavs were about to be sold to an unknown billionaire name Mark Cuban. By the time the Nuggets finished beating the Mavs, 98-96, team personnel had gotten word that Cuban had indeed purchased the Mavs from Ross Perot Jr. for $285 million.
Dirk Nowitzki is the only member of the current Mavs who were with this franchise when Cuban purchased it.
“I remember him walking into Reunion (Arena) basically like this was his house – and it was,’’ Nowitzki said Friday. “That’s how he walked in there.’’
Cuban threw money at the Mavs. Lots of it. And it paid off in 2006 when the Mavs advanced to the NBA Finals, and again in 2011 when the Mavs won the NBA championship.
“You’ve got to give him credit,’’ Nowitzki said. “He made this into a first-class organization over his 13 years. “He made it a place to be again for NBA players, which the ‘90s obviously weren’t.’’
The Mavs were one of the worst franchises in professional sports in the 1990’s, and the butt of many jokes on late night comedy TV shows. But that all changed under Cuban’s ownership as the Mavs won 50 or more games from the 2000-’01 through the 2010-’11 seasons.
“We had like 10 50-win seasons in a row – or whatever how many that was – which shows a lot under his reign,’’ Nowitzki said. “It’s been amazing, obviously topped off with the championship in ’11.’’
Don Nelson, the coach of the Mavs at the time, thought he and his staff was going to get fired after Cuban bought the team. The Mavs were only 9-22 at the time and going nowhere fast. But Cuban stayed with Nelson and Nelson’s staff, and the Mavs finished the rest of the 1999-2000 season with a 31-20 record under Cuban’s tutelage.
“I remember when the team was bought because we played here not long after the team was bought,’’ said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who was an assistant with the Indiana Pacers at the time. “They were going through a tough period and I remember talking to Donnie Nelson before the game – he was one of the assistant coaches.
“I just asked him, I said, ‘Have you met the new owner?’ He said, ‘Yeah, we met him.’ He said, ‘I think it’s going to be great. It’s going to be great for the city and great for the franchise.’ ''
Little did Donnie Nelson know at the time how great the Mavs would become.
“It certainly turned out to be that way,’’ Carlisle said. “A lot of the rest is history and now we’re trying to rebuild the championship team, which is work.’’
Mavs forward Elton Brand said, growing up as an NBA fan, he saw the Mavs struggling before Cuban bought the team.
“It wasn’t happy times, but then I saw that turn it around,’’ Brand said. “They had 50-win teams all those years, and in the playoffs, and then they went and got a championship, so I saw them turn it around.
“The things Cuban’s done with this franchise, the way he turned it around, he turned it into a franchise knowing about winning.’’
One of the things Cuban immediately did when he purchased the Mavs was upgrade the quality of the hotels the Mavs stayed in. They now stay in the Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton and the other elite hotels when on road trips.
“Not only hotels, I mean, the first thing he changed was he bought a new plane,’’ Nowitzki said. “Obviously, the hotels.
“And Reunion Arena used to smell really, really bad. He got us out of that. He’s made this a place to be. It’s been a fun 13 years for him and myself.’’
-- Dwain Price
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