LARRY BROWN VS. MARK CUBAN: WHO'S THE NBA DUMBASS OF THE YEAR?


Larry Brown thinks the best NBA pros should play for the U.S. Olympic team. Mark Cuban thinks this is a terrible use of his multi-million-dollar investment in the Dallas Mavs. Larry Brown called Mark Cuban "a dumbass" (well, almost). Cuban basically said that Larry Brown should shut his mouth until he actually understands what it's like to be responsible for more than $100 million in contracts.

Well, this one had the Writers' Bloc written all over it. So we set Dan Shanoff, a big Cuban fan, against Chuck Hirshberg, a big anti-Cuban fan. First, Chuck played the "wealth card," then Dan played the "what makes America great card," then Chuck played the "patriotism card," then Dan started screaming, "Cuban si, anti-capitalism no!" And then things really got messy.

Read on, make your own decision and show yourself to be a good, patriotic American by voting in our poll on the right.

Tastes great! Less filling! | From Chuck Hirshberg

"Dumbass."

That's what Larry Brown called Mark Cuban, and it's outrageous. Cuban may be an ass, but he is very far from dumb.

I know, I know. I'm being kind of an ass myself. Truth is, Brown didn't quite call Cuban a dumbass; he said Cuban made a "dumbass statement."

What I'm trying to do, see, is whip up anger and resentment between two hot-tempered egomaniacs, like the devious troublemaker in one of those old "Tastes Great/Less Filling" commercials. ("Didja hear that, Mark? Larry said that Miller Lite is 'less filling'! He also said that you're a dumbass!") So let's be fair . . . just once, and once only. I submit that neither Mark nor Larry is dumb. What I wish to know, Writer Blockers, is this: Who's the bigger ass, Cuban or Brown? (No, Dan, you may not vote for me.)

This wonderful opportunity for mischief and name-calling arose when folks around the league began to realize that a lot of players who worked out with Larry's World Championship team over the summer are now coming up lame. Is it a coincidence, or cause-and-effect? The answer, of course, is obvious: We simply do not know.

Many basketball injuries occur because of trauma. You jump, you fall to earth, and some part of your body takes a nasty twist in a direction in which it was never designed to go. You can spend the off-season lying in a hammock eating Grape Nuts, or you can spend it in an Alaskan bar fighting in Tough Man tourneys; either way, your chances of sustaining such an injury won't budge.

On the other hand, a lot of other basketball injuries come from constant stress on muscles and bones. A too-demanding offseason workout could be fatal to a season, or even a career. "It's a question that needs to be answered," observes Mike Dunleavy the Elder. "But it's . . . a medical question. What needs to be figured out is, what kind of medical studies can we do? Are these stress fractures from overuse? Are they freak deals?"

Exactly!

But Mark Cuban don't need no stinkin' studies. He's too rich. Could the Olympic Games be threatening his bottom line? Maybe? Well, then: OFF WITH YOUR HEADS, OLYMPIC GAMES!!!

"We pay these guys tens of millions of dollars and then let them work for another for-profit enterprise, the Olympics," wails Cuban. "And for events no one cares about, the World Championships. Both of them have officiating that allows brutal play, and all of them have the risk of injury. Why? We're risking the core of our business, our players."

I am glad Cuban made that point about the Olympics being a "for-profit enterprise," because it doesn't get made enough. But the extremity of his anti-Olympics tirade shocks even me, 'cause I thought I was more cynical about the Olympics than anyone. Turns out, compared to Mark, I'm Avery Brundage.

Newsflash: In addition to being "a profit-making enterprise," the Olympics is just about the only human enterprise on earth in which every nation participates. This makes it fairly important, as sporting events go -- almost as important as Cuban's bottom line! All over the world, foreign basketball players dream of taking on the Americans, and beating them, in the Olympics. This is wonderful for the sport; and, as Brown quickly pointed out, no one has benefited from basketball's increasing international popularity more than the Dallas Mavericks and Mark Cuban. I wish Larry had made this point without calling Mark a "dumbass". But he's a coach, not a diplomat.

Cuban's no diplomat, either; and I suspect he is not accustomed to being contradicted. "This is a topic that's easy for Larry to comment on," he huffed. "He has never had to write the check for an NBA payroll in his life. I am responsible to everyone in the organization, particularly the fans, who much prefer watching our best players, playing at the top of their game. . . . When Brown is responsible for a hundred million dollars or more in contracts, then I will respect his opinion on the subject."

Let's see, I've already used the word "ass" several times and this is a family website. How can I put this? I don't believe Cuban gives a rat's ass about how this affects fans. If he did, he might ask them what they think, rather than try to impose his will upon them. He admits that Larry's a great basketball coach, and yet he won't "respect [Brown's] opinion on the subject" until he's a basketball owner. That pretty much sums up everything that's wrong with pro sports.

You own the Mavericks, Mark, but you don't own basketball. You didn't invent it. You didn't patent it. You haven't even improved it. Basketball belongs to the American people, and, indeed, to people all over the world who play it or watch it or otherwise love it. The concept here is human liberty. In a free world, it ought to be up to individual players to choose whether or not they wish to represent their nations in international competitions. Your only answer to that? Playing the wealth card.

That's why you're a bigger ass than Larry Brown.

Voila! The American Dream | From Dan Shanoff

"The wealth card." Aye, Chuck, there's the rub.

Challenge him on his manhood. Challenge him on his intellectual horsepower. But to challenge him on his net worth is to challenge the principles our great nation is founded on -- the very American Dream, itself.

Larry Brown seems to be propping himself up on his patriotism. And on its face, "No greater honor than to play for your country . . . yada yada yada . . . ACL tear" seems to give the coach the moral high-ground.

But Cuban's outlook reflects more patriotism than Brown could rack up with 100 gold medals.

[Cue humming of "America the Beautiful."]

This great country was founded, has developed and will grow on the strength of Entrepreneurial Spirit. That's right: Big "E," Big "S." Without entrepreneurs, our country would cease to grow -- cease to exist, really -- if it would have even been established in the first place. Life? Check. Liberty? Check. Pursuit of property/happiness? Larry, you love the basketball fundamentals, but you're messing with some serious American fundamentals here.

Give someone a fish . . . and they eat for a day. Teach someone to fish . . . and they eat for a lifetime. Provide someone incentive to invest in and start their own fishing corporation . . . and they go public, get acquired, make a bajillion dollars and single-handedly improve the economy by hiring employees, buying a sports team and providing entertainment for employees of thousands of other local businesses.

In a nutshell, Cuban is chafing at external, unnecessary limits enforced on his not-so-insubstantial investment. Where is his incentive to invest in his team if someone is threatening to seriously damage his product by forcing him to deploy it in ways that don't provide any sort of equal return? If his star players are hurt (or even too tired to play at peak ability in a regular season game versus Milwaukee), his product is damaged beyond repair.

By extension, where is the incentive for any entrepreneur to invest in a business if they think their return on investment will be substantially limited by external forces?

The Olympics are a wonderful rallying moment for any country, but to try to line up "Olympic basketball commitment" versus "commitment to a fundamental foundation of our nation" is like lining up Qatar against the U.S. in hoops. Not even close.

I'm actually pretty sure Larry Brown understands the principles of entrepreneurship; after all, he's bailed on too many teams to count -- pro and college -- in the name of maximizing his investment in himself. If he feels so strongly about his Olympic team, I encourage him to follow Cuban's advice and donate his entire salary to the U.S. Olympic development process. Without knowing the man at all, I think that Larry's patriotism may waver slightly at his checkbook. Bravo: That's the point.

In the end, as critics castigate Cuban for what is, on its face, seemingly anti-nationalist spirit, remember that the U.S. Olympic hoops team makes for a nice poster on the bedroom wall; the U.S. entrepreneur built the house.

Founding Fathers Day | From Chuck Hirshberg

Let me ask you a question, Dan: If entrepreneurship is the soul of America, why didn't our Founding Fathers make more of a fuss about it in the Constitution? It's a fairly long document and full of interesting details. It explains, for instance, that all slaves and indentured servants owned by the American entrepreneurs of old were to be considered three-fifths of a person -- tho' only for census purposes. That's pretty much all the Constitution has to say about Free Enterprise, capitalism or any of that other stuff. You sneakily mention "the pursuit of property/happiness." But you and I both know that "life, liberty and property" was John Locke's phrase -- a phrase which Jefferson pointedly changed to "pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence.

Look, you're right. What Churchill said about democracy is also true about free enterprise: It's the worst system in the world . . . except for all of the others.

But international cooperation -- which is, at least partly, what the Olympics are about -- serves the cause of free enterprise. As we sit here, there are literally tens of thousands of nuclear weapons poised to be fired on a moment's notice. If they are ever launched, believe me, the entrepreneurial spirit will take one hell of a beating. If the Olympics can help prevent that, even in the tiniest way, isn't that more important than Mark Cuban's profit margin?

Middling ground | From Dan Shanoff

Chuck, you are making me look like some kind of Heritage Foundation hatchet man.

And I'm all for the Olympics, but some kind of mandated inclusion for our NBA players bears no relationship to the spirit of pan-international mutual fondling that you seem to be such a fan of. I'm sure the nuke wannabes are thrilled by the 120-32 humiliation we put on them, not to mention the export of our crass consumption culture, embodied by our finest NBA players/endorsers.

Let's meet in the middle (building on an idea Cuban talked about) -- let's have the NBA (and its owners) put a truckload of money in the kitty to establish a real Olympic development program.

Let the top-flight kids who have no interest in going to college (and not good enough to go straight to the NBA) get the highest level of basketball instruction possible, whup some dictatorial regimes' asses (whoops, Heritage moment again . . . ), then be ready to help the NBA (and its owners . . . and themselves) make gobs of money off the players' talents, funded by private investment.

Sniff, sniff . . . now we're truly talking the American Dream.

There's the real rub | From Chuck Hirshberg

But isn't everybody in favor of "pan-international mutual fondling"?

The 'aha' experience | From Dan Shanoff

I stand corrected.