Cuban's book on investment

Updated: December 3, 2004, 11:31 AM ET
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

Mavs owner Mark Cuban mentioned on his blog recently that risking money on a sports-gambling hedge fund can't be that much different from risking money by gambling on the stock market, and he'd like to try to prove it.

This is what's good about the Cuban regime: You can take it precisely as seriously as you wish. After all, it's not like Mark Cuban made his fortune on the backs of the people; he made his fortune by refining an Internet-related product (sportscasts over the net) to the extent that someone (Yahoo!) was willing to pay an obscene amount of money ($5.7 billion) to purchase it.

Likewise, Cuban's latest blog-out-loud idea may be considered "threatening" only by those who find themselves threatened by the quality of another person's thought. He didn't advocate the overthrow of government, or even the escalation of ticket prices. He just said that gambling is gambling, whether it's with stock reports or point spreads.

For those inclined to worry, don't. The NBA makes its own rules as they relate to gambling, and those rules can be as restrictive or as flexible as the league wants them to be.

The Maloof family, owner of the Sacramento Kings, is knee-deep in the casino business, operating the fabulously successful Palms hotel, site of innumerable Las Vegas poker broadcasts and a season of MTV's "Real World." The Palms is not allowed to offer bets on sporting events, which is the NBA's way of pretending that it doesn't have a casino owner as a franchisee. (And, technically, it doesn't. It has "Maloof Sports and Entertainment" as a franchisee. See how this all works out?)

Mark Cuban isn't talking about ownership. He's talking about a hedge fund that treats a sports book as an investment, rising on the good days, shrinking on the bad. It's sort of like the little account you continue to keep with your (illegal) bookie, except that you mostly lose and Cuban generally finds a way to win.

Realistically, there may not be a sports book anywhere that wants to handle a hedge fund's worth of business -- but, again, why fret over such details? It's just another Cuban idea. Some work (his stint at the Dairy Queen was, I thought, inspired) and some don't (his reality TV show tanked), but the larger point is that the ideas keep coming.

Cuban is outspoken, occasionally profane, basically contemptuous of authority and at all times willing to pay the fine. But he also has successfully owned the Mavericks, turned them into a contending franchise, found ways to keep people pouring into the American Airlines Center. He's business savvy in blue jeans.

Sports leagues in general are not places for out-of-the-box-thinking owners, which is exactly why Cuban's presence makes any difference at all in the NBA. He was the owner -- not the coach, not the disgruntled player, but the owner -- who didn't mind stepping up and saying that the quality of officiating in the league had dropped off dramatically. He was the owner who said he wanted his top players to begin skipping international competitions in the offseason, arguing that they're risking his huge investment by playing under uncontrolled conditions.

The point isn't that Cuban is always right, but that he occasionally asks a relevant question. You can take him mildly seriously, laugh at the brashness of it all or get your undies completely in a bunch. Chances are, if Cuban doesn't say something this week that you find either intriguing or offensive, he'll come up with something next week.

Is sports gambling really so different from working the stock market? For some people, not so much. When Cuban speaks of the investors for whom the stocks are basically nothing more than a crapshoot, you know to whom he is referring, because some of them are friends of yours. They're the ones who don't use a broker because they have an "intuition" about a stock, the same way your favorite recidivist playuh loaded up on the Under of the Bengals-Browns game because he was getting "that vibe." There's no end to the creative ways people find to lose their money.

Maybe Cuban figures a team of professionals -- professional sports gamblers, that is -- can beat the system. Hey, if the guys from MIT could fleece the casino gaming tables in their spare weekend time, anything is possible. But if it makes you nervous, don't worry about it. You can always say it's just a Mark Cuban thing.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at mkreidler@sacbee.com

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