Collier: All Cuban's money can't buy local teams

As it stands, Cuban won't be fish that saves Pirates or Penguins

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Some substantial part of a lifetime ago, Mark Cuban found himself standing in this same strange Uptown building, having sneaked inside to watch the filming of "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh," the cinematic airball that, as a finished product, had most people sneaking out.

Funny, Cuban doesn't have much luck sneaking around anymore, especially in Pittsburgh.

Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Mavericks owner and Mt. Lebanon native Mark Cuban was at Mellon Arena last night with his NBA team.
Click photo for larger image.

When you grow up in Mt. Lebanon with enough vision and tech savvy to launch Broadcast.com and wind up selling it to Yahoo for $5.7 beellion, when your major decisions tend to revolve around whether to buy this sports franchise or that sports franchise, there's very little chance you can order at Primanti's without someone yelping an idea.

"Hey Mark, buy the Pirates!"

As it happens, that's what folks inside Mellon Arena were imploring the owner of the Dallas Mavericks to do last night.

"Yeah," Cuban cracked. "I won't hear that much tonight."

Though Cuban had looked forward to this NBA exhibition game since the date was announced last summer, looked forward to it probably a lot more than the part of Pittsburgh that doesn't get the acquired appeal of Mavericks-Cavaliers, he had in fact arrived at the old arena a night early to take in the Penguins-Devils.

One long look at Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, however, and something became painfully clear. He wasn't early. He was late.

"I think I screwed up," he said.

Yeah; he should have pushed harder to buy the hockey team as a member of the Andrew Murstein group that included Dan Marino. By the time Cuban got to Pittsburgh, Jim Balsillie had already won that faceoff, and Cuban sounded downright envious.

"After watching Malkin and Crosby last night, oh my God!" he said about 90 minutes before tipoff. "No wonder the Russians are coming after that kid. He should have been a state secret. Even if you'd have scored that fourth goal with a basketball, people would still be talking about it. There aren't many times, aren't many things anymore that you're watching and your jaw just drops."

No, but in Dallas, there's still Mark Cuban, who in taking the staid corporate template of sports ownership and breaking it a few billion pieces, is rarely approached in draw-dropping innovation. From sitting courtside in his Mavericks jersey to answering fans e-mails directly to putting together marketing synergies most top executives haven't thought of yet, Cuban is the uber-owner of the 21st century.

That such a person is a Pirates fan stoked with baseball passion is almost a debilitating reality for Pittsburghers. Even though the Pirates aren't for sale, anytime Cuban comes to town everyone's got to drop what they're doing and just stare wistfully at him, like the ballplaying kids in the movie "Sandlot" when Wendy Peffercorn would walk by.

Wendy, like our Mark Cuban, was young and rich and bright and unattainable in that way that reminds us that no amount of day-dreaming is getting you to the prom with Wendy Peffercorn. Instead, we subsist with the Nutting-ventured-Nutting-gained Pirates of flat payroll projections.

I asked Cuban if he has thought of a new answer to the simplistic and relentless, "Why don't you buy the Pirates?" question.

"There is no other answer than that they're not for sale," he said. "I've let it be known through back channels that if they ever were, or if they ever were interested in taking on another investor, I'd be interested. That said, I think the Buccos are going to be good next year. They're starting to win at home, and that's an important step. I think they have some solid players and, with the new collective bargaining agreement, I think they can start to put their money where their mouth is."

Except that their mouth is pretty much in lockjaw on the expenditure side.

Pirates CEO Kevin McClatchy, asked by the Post-Gazette's Paul Meyer yesterday if the new labor agreement meant he'd soon be signing National League batting champion Freddy Sanchez to a long-term contract, said it hadn't even been discussed yet, an answer that sounded about as far from a "yes" as Dallas is from Pittsburgh.

When the Mavericks blew a 2-0 lead in last summer's NBA Finals and faced an offseason when they had to sign Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Josh Howard and head coach Avery Johnson, Cuban went 4 for 4 without a lot of hesitation.

"He knows his economics; I don't," Cuban said in fairness to the Pirates' owner. "It's not always just the cost of the player."

There are a lot of owners who are financially capable of building a champion, but there are few that put their teams in a position where they have no excuse not to win the way Cuban does. Someone asked Cuban if it was any wonder Pittsburghers and Pirates fans in particular find that real attractive.

"No, I can figure it out," he laughed. "I've seen my bank statements. I've read my bio."

It must be a thoroughly comforting thing to know the only thing you're likely to fail at is explaining to Dirk Nowitzki the significance of "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh."


Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1283.


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