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Thursday, May 25, 2006
Page 2 Quickie: May 24, 2006


 
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:
MAVS.  NATION.

Who is the best owner in sports?

Today, on the day his Mavs host the first game of the Western Conference finals, I'd argue Mark Cuban has ascended to that title, even if the title of "NBA champ" still eludes him and his team.

(I was stunned when, earlier this week on ESPN Classic's "Who's No. 1: Best Owners," not only was Cuban not among the top ranked, he wasn't ranked at all.)

How does Cuban earn the title? Check out my five criteria for Great Owner:

Commitment to winning: What this really means? "Commitment to spending to win." And no one makes the effort to look like he's spending more -- on players, on amenities, on marketing the team's brand -- than Cuban.

When he said last weekend that he wanted Mavs-Spurs to be the Yankees-Red Sox of the NBA, it was almost laughable. But you have to give him points for his earnestness in pushing the idea.

Fan-friendliness: From free airline ticket giveaways to everyone in the arena to rushing the court after games to criticizing opposing cities, he doesn't ask for fan loyalty; he earns it.

(And yet, for his reputation as a free-spending billionaire, perhaps no owner demands as much rigorous analysis before making a decision.)

Media savvy: He publishes his own statistics that rip his own league (and make columnists' jobs easy); he provides near-instantaneous replies to e-mails from reporters; he manipulates the news by making news.

And, most notably, he files daily updates to his blog: "BlogMaverick." Cuban's unfiltered connection to the world is the most progressive tool used by any owner in sports to communicate with media and fans.

Participation: He acts like you, like a fan. He yells at refs. He wears ugly team-logo apparel. He's unrepentantly myopic. He shares his emotions, high and low.

(At the same time, he has the life you wish you had: Courtside seats, hanging out with players, jetting around to road games. In short, if you could own a team, you'd probably act like he does.)

But you could also flip that idea, which brings me the final criteria:

The "If He Was Yours" Test. Here's the ultimate determining factor: If your favorite team was up for sale, which current owner in sports would you want to buy it? (Just ask Pirates fans, begging for Cuban to rescue their beloved franchise.)

And if it was your team, you'd be saying the same thing. He has almost everything you want in an owner; the only thing he's missing is delivering a title -- in my opinion, an inevitability (if not this year, then someday).

When you're watching Game 1 tonight from Dallas, look for the biggest fan in the arena: He owns the team, and that makes him the best owner in sports.

Mavs in 6.

Heat d. Pistons
At least for one game, those of us who mocked Pat Riley's fantasy GM-style offseason acquisitions of Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and Gary Payton have to keep quiet.

The trio was the difference between the Heat's Game 1 win in Detroit and their last playoff game against the Pistons, a Game 7 loss in Miami in last year's East finals, which is presumably why they were brought in.

They combined for 41 points on 17-27 FG shooting and an average of 34.5 minutes each, balancing out 39 points from Wade (25 pts in 27 min) and Shaq (14 pts in 29 min).

Shaq and Wade accounted for 57 percent of Miami's offense in the Game 7 East finals loss a year ago; last night, they only had 42 percent of the points in a Heat win. Ask Pat Riley: That's by design.

NBA Lottery
Winner: Bryan Colangelo. Raptors GM bolted from the Suns for a seemingly terrible gig in Canada. But with Bosh and Villanueva anchoring the frontline and the No. 1 overall pick, the turnaround can begin. (Ford predicts they'll take Euro stud SF Barganini, and I agree.)

Loser: Blazers. Consolation for the league's worst record? The 4th pick in what is emerging as a 3-"name" draft. If it wasn't for the inanity in NYC, this would be the most hapless franchise in the NBA.

Jury Still Out: Knicks. That No. 2 overall pick (now Bulls property) could have been Tyrus Thomas, Adam Morrison or LaMarcus Aldridge. (Thanks, Isiah!) But it must be asked: Are those guys better than Eddy Curry?

See Big 5 for a Quickie preemie Mock Draft!

Bonds/Pujols Watch
Wait: That's the wrong order. At this point, shouldn't it be the "Pujols/Bonds Watch?"

In head-to-head comp this week, Bonds has fizzled. Meanwhile, Pujols hit his 23rd HR of the season last night in an 8-3 Cards win.

Bonds 715: Still waiting …

Pujols 74: Projects to 84!

Pujols himself summed it up nicely: "I don't want to be the next Barry Bonds. I want to be Albert Pujols, and that's it." Good enough.

MLB Talking Points
Cole Hamels Scratched: Phillies phenom won't start at Shea tonight with shoulder soreness. That's not surprising to hear and probably for the best.

Not surprising to hear: Despite 12 K's in 11 IP in 2 starts since his call-up, he has thrown 198 pitches. (Control issues? Um, yes.) And after last night's 16-inning marathon loss to the Mets, what kind of pen would the Phillies have to help him?

Halladay wins 5th straight: The ace is cruising (8.2 IP, 1 R, 7 K, 0 BB) and the Jays won for the 7th time when he starts.

Split Petco-nality: Jake Peavy K's 16 but can't get the win one day; the next, rookie Mike Thompson gets 2 hits in support but wins.

Dmitri Young to 15-day DL: Tack on another 30 and he could join his brother picking up trash outside minor league stadiums.

Bush No. 5 Negged
"No. 5?" became "5? No." after the NFL's Competition Committee denied Reggie Bush's request to wear the non-standard number for RBs.

It's disappointing for fans (particularly seeing how cool he looked in it during the Saints' minicamp), but the result is unsurprising.

If the NFL had allowed the "Bush Exception," they would have opened the floodgates for every player to request special treatment. That's too much creativity for a league as militaristic as the NFL.

The Bush decision begs a question: How will a Bush No. 25 jersey sell? If he's as electrifying in the NFL as he was in college, people will wear it.

Meanwhile, think fast: How many all-time great No. 25s in the NFL can you name? No 25 NFL jersey has ever been retired. Bush still can define that particular number as his own.

(Of course, Barry Bonds wears No. 25 … )

Baby Name Watch
Final installment of an ongoing Quickie series analyzing the names given by people in sports and pop culture to their new kids:

Name: Gabe K. Shanoff
Parents: Dan/Margery Shanoff
Born: Tuesday, May 16

Sports-fan associations:
Gabe Kapler: Red Sox OF
Gabe Kaplan: Poker analyst
(OK, yes: And "Kotter")

Analysis: Is it so terrible to have the kid share a name with that special and rare pro athlete: The Jewish MLB player?

"Idol" Finale
So: On tonight's "American Idol" finale, are you picking sultry, polished Katherine McPhee or ragged underdog Taylor Hicks?

Not following "Idol"? (Or perhaps you're just not admitting it.) Here's a guide to the two finalists to help you pick one to root for:

If you root for McPhee, you also root for players like Alex Rodriguez:

(Too) polished; (too) pretty; Kat does the equivalent of hit home runs when the team has a a 5-run lead.

If you root for Taylor, you also root for players like Sal Fasano:

Gruff; face for another occupation; fan favorite; probably shouldn't be there, based on talent alone.

Quickie Pick: Taylor Hicks. Then, tomorrow, we talk about how, by crowning its greatest underdog ever, "Idol" has ruined itself.