boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

World at his feet

Mavericks owner Cuban is living his dreams, dancing to his own beat

MARK CUBAN Worth $2.3 billion MARK CUBAN Worth $2.3 billion

DALLAS - Everyone dreams about what they'd do with a billion dollars. For a 40-something sports fan, the vision could easily go like this:

Buy your favorite team, even if it's an epic loser that's not for sale. Do wacky stunts that bring attention to your club and to you, but also hire the right people to build the team into a big winner.

Once that's done, start branching out. Try buying a team in another sport that you grew up rooting for. Better yet, bid on two.

When one of baseball's landmark franchises goes for sale, make an offer.

When folks are looking to start a pro football league to rival the NFL, grab a piece of the action. Say the Las Vegas franchise.

Along the way, you'll discover new diversions, such as mixed martial arts. Go ahead and add that to your sports empire - which, by now, is part of a bigger portfolio that includes a cutting-edge television network, a respected movie company and a national chain of theaters.

But that's still not all. With so much going on, you'll become more famous than most of your players. GQ will make you a "Man of the Year" even though your wardrobe is mostly jeans and T-shirts. ABC will put you on "Dancing With The Stars" even though you bombed the first time the network put you in prime time.

Sound like fun?

Welcome to the world of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

Since parlaying a dot-com idea into a 10-digit bank account, Cuban not only has had the financial ability to do what he wants, when he wants - he's done it.

And loved every minute.

"I'm the luckiest guy in the world," he said after announcing his latest venture, HDNet Fights, a marriage between his high-definition satellite TV network and the growing world of mixed martial arts.

"I like to do things that are unique and different and once-in-a-lifetime chances. And when I get to tie them all together, that's the ultimate solution."

Just his luck, plenty of those "ultimate solutions" have come along lately. Starting a week from tomorrow, Cuban will be part of the new season of "Dancing With The Stars." He's doing it even though he had hip replacement surgery earlier this summer. (Dang rugby injuries.)

Cuban says dance practice is his version of rehab.

"It was either work with Bruno or work with Kym Johnson. That was an easy decision," Cuban said.

Executive producer Conrad Green was hesitant about what he was getting into with Cuban because he only knew him as the guy who went berserk on the sidelines.

Cuban has racked up more than $1 million in fines from the NBA for antics that range from outrageous to inflammatory. His style rubs a lot of people the wrong way, even some diehard Mavericks fans. Cuban bashers extend beyond basketball, too. He had a war of words with fellow billionaire Donald Trump a few years ago.

"But every time I'm around him, he's been charm personified," Green said. "He's such an advertisement for positive thinking. All he ever talks about is, 'I'm doing this to have so much fun. I'm at the stage in life that I've got to embrace every opportunity that life gives me.' It's inspiring."

Cuban is taking on this contest just as he has basketball and business: To win. Sometimes, that even means wearing "things that make him cringe," Green said.

"He's a leap-in-with-two-feet kind of guy," Green said. "He told us, 'If you want me to wear the frilly shirt, I'll wear the frilly shirt.' "

Put Cuban's over-under at six episodes. That's how long his 2004 reality-game show "The Benefactor" lasted. It was supposed to go eight, but ABC pulled the plug because of horrendous ratings.

"Guys are going to love watching me, because I'm pulling out every white guy's dream moves," said Cuban, who followed with a demonstration of "the lawnmower," "the sprinkler," and "churn the butter."

"I've made my partner promise that we'd put one of those in every single dance - so, watch out!"

That goes for Cubs fans, too.

In April, the Chicago Cubs went on the block, and Cuban immediately was pegged as a potential buyer. Sure enough, he turned in his paperwork in July.

Fans of all teams in all leagues have e-mailed Cuban for years, begging him to buy their clubs and pump in his money and can-do attitude. Yet the only teams he went after were his hometown clubs, Pittsburgh's Pirates and Penguins.

After going 0 for 2, Cuban wasn't looking to try again. But he couldn't pass the chance to go after the Cubbies, the lovable losers with a nationwide fan base.

"What's more fun than going to a baseball game and drinking beer and eating a hot dog?" said Cuban. "The Cubs are obviously an iconic team that, again, tie in from a business perspective to HDNet and everything else I do."

Cuban also is willing to start something from scratch.

In May, he was linked to a startup pro football league that would play on Friday nights with teams in non-NFL cities. The orchestrator is a Wall Street investor who was part of the USFL in the 1980s.

But because of Cuban's profile, and rebelliousness toward NBA hierarchy, he's the one everyone associates with the league.

"I'm not involved day-to-day or in the development of it at all, other than getting an e-mail every month or so and answering a question," said Cuban, who has dibs on the Las Vegas franchise. "I couldn't even give you an update on it."

Still, he's gung-ho about being the underdog against the mighty NFL.

Mavs coach Avery Johnson would never bet against Cuban - and not just because he's his boss. Johnson's confidence comes from seeing how Cuban works.

What others consider risky, Cuban does not because he does extensive homework. Case in point: Putting Johnson in charge of a playoff team a few months after he'd left the court, with only a partial season of experience as an assistant coach. The Mavs wound up going to the NBA finals in Johnson's first full season, followed by Dallas winning a league-best 67 games last year.

"He didn't just decide two hours before he hired me that he wanted me to be his coach," Johnson said. "He had a chance to watch and ask questions. There were certain criteria I had to meet.

"He's not a guy that wastes time or money. There's a lot of time spent behind the scenes before he moves forward. He's very innovative and creative. And determined. That passion and determination, some people have it and some people don't. He's one of the guys that have it."

"He's an Everyman's owner," said Donnie Nelson, the Mavericks' president of basketball operations. "He's the frat brother that is going to interact and engage with people the same way he used to no matter how many zeros are attached to his name."

At 49, Cuban is married with two young daughters and has a spot on Forbes' list of the richest people in the world - No. 407 with $2.3 billion as of March.

He could spend the rest of his life counting his money, but that's not his style. He's going to keep seeking challenges, keep working hard.

Then again, it's not exactly "hard" work when you live by this credo: "I'm not going to do it unless it is fun."

"They're all passions of mine, and I'm fortunate I can focus time on them," Cuban said. "I wish I could tell you there was one secret ingredient that makes it all work.

"But there's not," he said, smiling as only a billionaire can.

More from Boston.com

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES