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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 26, 2010

NBA docking Cuban $100,000 for LeBron comment is dumb


By Tim Cowlishaw
The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS Mark Cuban loses money on the Mavericks all the time. He has lost money every year he has owned the team except for 2006, if we are to believe what we are told.

So maybe that's why I didn't get too worked up and no one else did as far as I can tell when the NBA fined Cuban $100,000 for making comments about his desire to acquire LeBron James.

And I should have gotten worked up. It's a dumb fine, and we should ignore our suspicions that the amount of money really doesn't mean much to the Mavericks' owner.

I know the league's side of the argument. There are very specific rules in place regarding owners or other club officials making comments about tampering with other teams' players.

Cuban probably could have gotten away with saying that every team would love to have the Cavaliers' two-time MVP, the lead free agent of this summer's elite class. When Cuban talked about how the Mavericks could get James through a sign-and-trade deal even though this is basic NBA math to the most casual fan that's where the league decided he stepped over the line.

The thing is those in the league office know there is no sympathy for Cuban when it comes to money. Even the most diehard Mavericks fans who are predisposed to overstating what he has brought to the franchise (it's higher on the entertainment side than on the winning scale) don't worry much when Cuban gets clocked for 100 grand.

Even if $100,000 to Cuban means the same as $100 to me and that might be overstating my worth it doesn't make it right. What is the NBA accomplishing by taking Cuban to task for making an obvious statement?

Is there (sticking with the league's favorite number) one chance in 100,000 that James and his agent heard Cuban's comments and thought, "A sign-and-trade with Dallas, we never thought of that option?"

There are no great secrets in the NBA, certainly not at the level that James operates on. In addition to Cleveland, which has his rights until he opts out of his contract, there are 29 others that would sacrifice just about anything to have him.

For any owner or GM to say otherwise those are the league officials that someone needs to worry about.

If Cuban had spoken out about a player of lesser talents, then he would have been in the wrong. That could have been real tampering.

It's not the same with James, and while I understand the need for the league to have rules, it has to operate with common sense, too, doesn't it?

Fining Suns president Steve Kerr $10,000 for making a radio comment in which he joked about hoping LeBron would take the mid-level exception to come to Phoenix seemed equally unnecessary. But once the league fined Cuban, I guess it didn't want to appear to be playing favorites.

I'm pretty sure the NBA isn't capable of fining President Obama for saying he thinks James would be a nice fit with his Chicago Bulls.

But what about NBA commissioner David Stern saying the league's collective bargaining agreement is designed to allow teams to keep their premier free-agent players and that he hoped Cleveland would do so?

Once the commissioner opens the door for casual comments to be made regarding LeBron, how can the door be slammed so swiftly on team owners or officials?

The thing I don't think the NBA gets is that controversial publicity is hardly ever a bad thing. I'm not talking about players getting arrested. I'm talking about colorful owners, coaches and players who speak their mind freely and generate debate.

The prime example is Charles Barkley. As the driving force of the best studio show in professional sports (there isn't even a close No. 2), Barkley generates more interest in the league today than he did as a Hall of Fame player.

By its own admission, this is a league in trouble. There wouldn't be the threat of a lockout hanging over the 2011-12 season if the NBA was generating the revenues it feels it needs to thrive as a business.

So the response to that is to tell Cuban and Kerr and all others with valid opinions and, quite possibly, senses of humor to shut up and let the games speak for themselves?

There have been postseasons marked by one riveting series after another in which the NBA could have gotten away with that. This isn't one of them.