- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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While Mark Cuban and Phil Jackson have traded barbs in the past through the media, the Mavericks owner got a little sentimental in what could be Jackson's second-to-last visit to American Airlines Center if this truly is his "last stand" as a head coach.
"I like him a lot," Cuban told reporters. "Anybody who can intellectually give you some [expletive] instead of 'Your mother wears army boots' quotes, you've got to like that. He takes it and then he gives it back."
Just over two weeks ago Cuban called out Jackson, labeling him the "boy-toy" of girlfriend Jeanie Buss, the Lakers' executive vice president of business operations and daughter of owner Jerry Buss.
Buss referenced the jab in a tweet earlier Wednesday.
"In NYC and missing my boytoy Phil! Hahaha (thanks Mark for his new nickname) good luck in Dallas tonight babe. #GoLakers," read the tweet from Buss.
"It was pretty funny," Cuban said about the Twitter retort. "You know, I didn't say it because I thought I really wanted to mess with Phil. I said it because I wanted to mess with these guys [in the media]. It's like saying to yourself, 'How can I get everybody in the entire sports media to use the word boy-toy?'"
Jackson avoided adding any fuel to the fire that has simmered between the two ever since 2000, when Cuban criticized the Lakers' spending and Jackson said the owner should "keep his mouth shut."
"I'm more interested in the Dallas Mavericks than I am in Mark, to tell you the truth right now," Jackson said Wednesday.
Jackson was asked if he would miss his exchanges with Cuban after he retires.
"Mark and I have met a couple times, but we really haven't had that many tiffs over the years," Jackson said. "What I'll miss is walking 250 yards from the bus to get to the locker room, that's one thing I'll miss."
Cuban said that he will miss Jackson, but plans on keeping in touch.
"I'm sure I'll call him up," Cuban said. "I'll go to boytoynation.com and see what he's up to. [laughs] I'm sure he'll blog about it: 'Hey, everybody, I'm in Montana hangin' out! Just got dinner with a bunch of my fellow boy-toys!'"
Both parties downplayed the continued public dialogue they've had over the years.
"There was never anything started with Phil," Cuban said. "It was just fun."
Said Jackson: "I haven't had any back or forth with him. He just chimed in. He just got involved in it."
Cuban's "boy-toy" comment came after Jackson told reporters in Los Angeles that losing former Lakers swingman Caron Butler to season-ending right knee surgery would hurt Dallas' place in the standings.
"One of the things I missed out on when I came back was coaching Caron Butler and I think it all started when I said, 'Dallas is going to miss Caron out there on the floor. It's going to be hard to replace him,'" Jackson said. "And that must have put a spur in Mark's side [because] for some reason or other he decided it was worth a comment so he made a comment about it, but I have no idea why."
Cuban had fun with he-said, he-said, telling reporters that the comment was made more for entertainment value than retribution.
"Oh, he was just a convenient subject, and I knew Jeanie would laugh her ass off," Cuban said. "There you go.
"[Jackson is] smart. He's smart. You've got to have a sense of humor and be smart enough to figure it out. He likes to play with the media and so do I. You guys are a convenient intermediary. I think if you ask him, he would tell you that 99 percent of his comments are designed to see whether or not the media actually gets what he's saying, and only 1 percent is actually about the content of what he says. And you've got to like that about a guy."
The Mavericks have yet to face the Lakers in the playoffs in the 11 years since Cuban bought the team. Jackson was asked if the "Twitter war" between Cuban and Buss would escalate should the Mavericks and Lakers met in the postseason this year.
"It may," Jackson said. "It would definitely get heated with that."
Jackson was asked who NBA commissioner David Stern would root for in a potential playoff series between two of his most notorious fine subjects.
"He would root for the team that won," Jackson said with a smirk. "He's always on the winner's side."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. Tim MacMahon from ESPNDallas.com contributed to this report.
The NBA's most colorful owner, Mark Cuban, and perhaps its most outspoken coach, Phil Jackson, were at it again Wednesday night before the Dallas Mavericks hosted the Los Angeles Lakers.