Mark Cuban’s leadership lesson for the 2006 Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks suffered a devastating loss to the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals, when the Mavericks won the series’ first two games only to their championship hopes slip away after falling to the Heat in four straight games.

It was only a few years into Mark Cuban’s ownership of the Mavericks, and he took the opportunity to show leadership to the team. 

After the disappointing loss, the Mavericks players “were dejected,” according to Jason Terry, a former NBA guard who starred on that team and would eventually become the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2009 and an NBA champion with the Mavericks in 2011. And, Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki later said the 2006 NBA Finals loss was “one of my most disappointing losses in my career.”

Terry, who retired from the NBA in 2018, recently said in a radio interview with CBS Sports’ Zach Gelb that he received a mysteriously urgent, late-night text message from Cuban, the Mavericks’ billionaire owner, in the days after that 2006 NBA Finals loss. 

“I got a random text in the middle of the night,” Terry says in the interview. “My wife’s looking at my phone, like, ‘Excuse me, it’s 2 a.m., who’s texting?’ And it said, ‘Meet at the jet.’ And I said, ‘It’s Mark [Cuban].’

Terry’s wife told him he’d better hurry up and meet with Cuban, because the situation “must be urgent” for him to reach out in the middle of the night. When Terry met Cuban at the billionaire’s private jet, he saw that future Hall-of-Famer Nowitzki was already on the plane with some of his friends. 

Terry was confused. “We have no clothes or nothing and we were just like ‘OK, what’s going on?'” Terry says, adding that Cuban responded: “‘We’re going to Vegas, man. We got to get away. We’ve got to talk about the future of the team and the franchise and let’s go unwind.'”

“And I said ‘Wow. That’s never happened,'” Terry says.

First of all, Terry had never flown on a private jet before, he says. More importantly, though, Cuban’s insistence on gathering the team’s players for a discussion on what they thought would be the best future direction for the Mavericks was something that Terry says he’d never experienced before in the NBA (he entered the league in 1999) and it was an exciting development.

“Second of all, the owner is like, ‘Man, let’s talk about the future.’ And that really had me excited about being a Maverick and how much it meant to Mark to really try to win and bring home a championship,” Terry says.

When asked about specifics of what happened on the trip to Las Vegas, Terry played coy somewhat. “What goes on in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” the former player joked. But, he quickly added that nothing nefarious happened, and that the trip was “just a bunch of guys talking basketball, enjoying themselves.” 

“We had a good time. It was good because you got to bond,” Terry says.

When reached for comment, Cuban confirmed to CNBC Make It that the trip to Las Vegas did happen the way Terry describes.

“It’s true,” Cuban wrote in an e-mail. He also said that the trip was “fun … and necessary” before adding “that’s all I can say.”

Regardless of what happened on the 2006 Las Vegas trip, Cuban’s move obviously left a strong and positive impression on Terry with regard to the Mavericks owner’s leadership style. 

“When you’re on a team and your owner is just as bought in with the sweat equity of the guys playing, it means that much more to you,” Terry says in the interview. “Mark has been like that since day one, since he’s taken over and he hasn’t wavered yet.”

Cuban bought the Mavericks in 2000, paying $285 million for a majority stake in the team, which is now valued at $2.4 billion overall, according to the latest Forbes estimate. That was less than a year after Cuban became a billionaire on paper at the age of 41 when he sold Broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.7 billion in stock. (Not surprisingly, Cuban has said that one of the first things he did after becoming a billionaire was to take an impromptu trip to Las Vegas with friends on a private plane.)

At the time, the newly-minted billionaire was seen as particularly brash and outspoken for an NBA owner, but Cuban was also quick to show that he was obsessed with winning. Cuban told CNBC Make It in 2019 that he bought the team because he loves basketball and is “just a huge Mavericks fan.”

Cuban immediately went about trying to add star power to the Mavericks’ roster. He briefly signed former All-Star Dennis Rodman in 2000 and even tried to tempt Michael Jordan to come out of retirement to join the Mavericks instead of the Washington Wizards a year later. (Neither move worked out, as Rodman was released before the end of the season, and Jordan was not convinced to sign with Dallas.)

And, while the Mavericks did not immediately rebound to avenge their 2006 NBA Finals loss, the team did eventually win the franchise’s first-ever championship just five years later, in 2011 … defeating the Miami Heat.

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