The Cuban Missile Crisis: Mark Cuban and the Fans

PORTLAND, OR - APRIL 21: Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, "watches" the game against the Portland Trail Blazers in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 21, 2011 at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon.

There's a little bit of inbox fodder this morning regarding Mark Cuban and the "hit in the face by a thrown object" incident at last night's game (also mentioned here at the always-excellent SBNation.com plus in this eyewitness fanpost that reports the object as "a small straw or gum wrapper"...boo-hoo, Mark).  Actually I'm fairly proud that people around here aren't reacting overmuch to this distracting side-story.  The focus last night was, and should have been, the game.  But it's receiving attention elsewhere and Portland fans are under scrutiny, so let's address it.

Here's your obligatory note:  Throwing things is wrong.  Blah-blah, not classy.  Blah-blah, dangerous.  Blah-blah, gotta represent better.

OK...now everything I just said about throwing things also applies to Mark Cuban.  As has frequently been true when he's been involved in controversies during his ownership tenure, he wants to assume the privileges of ownership and association with his team in all the ways that are convenient and advantageous to him and discard the responsibilities of same whenever they are inconvenient or disadvantageous.

Plenty of opposing fans come into the Rose Garden, most notably fans of a certain team from Southern California who proudly wear their jerseys and cheer loudly for their hated--some would say disgusting--team.  I'm sure there are incidents but they are relatively few and probably not demonstrative enough to comment upon.  I mean, come on.  Portland fans aren't only among the loudest in the league, they're also the darn nicest.  What added the extra sauce to the mix here, tipping the scale towards uncharacteristic projectile-ism?  That was Mark Cuban--a team official, directly related to and responsible for that other team out there on the floor--being an antagonistic ass in the stands of a hostile arena.  Had this been a fan, surrounding spectators probably would have been upset but likely would have let it go.  At worst they would have called security over and gotten them to speak to him or threaten ejection.  But how's that going to work here?  Security's not going to eject Mark Cuban.  So...things got a little out of hand, not excusably perhaps, but understandably.

Following the Detroit-Indiana riot a few years ago the league acknowledged the hard-but-invisible barrier between participants in the game and spectators.  Part of the reasoning behind that barrier was its crossing increasing the potential for extreme emotion spurring violence.  When an opposing fan gets out of hand in the stands people react a certain way.  When an opposing player gets out of hand people react in a different, more problematic way.  Should that happen?  Probably not. Does it?  Yes...and not just in Portland.  Words back and forth turn quickly into thrown cups of ice and worse.  That's why the league mandates that players and coaches, as team officials with the potential to incite this kind of thing, do NOT go into the stands and start stuff.  Owners may not be at the extreme end of the continuum with the guys on the court, but they're certainly more towards that end of the scale than just a casual fan.  And Cuban, with his blazing public presence, is farther than any owner towards that extreme.  You could potentially miss Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen in a crowd.  Even if you correctly identified him you'd associate him as much with Microsoft and being rich as owning the Blazers.  Marc Cuban?  That's the Dallas Mavericks owner, period.  He's in the locker room.  He's all over the media.  He runs his own online site.  He's a--in some ways THE--team official and there's no two ways about it.  And in the guise of a team official he's breaking that barrier all to pieces verbally and emotionally, if not physically.

How would the league act if a coach started doing this?  That's pretty much how they should react when Cuban does it.  I have zero problem with him coming to every game and supporting his team.  Props to him for doing it, in fact.  I have zero problem if he wants to be positive, even demonstrably so, about his team in an opposing arena.  Everybody in the building will understand and support that, maybe even give him grudging admiration when his guys succeed.  But when he wants to actively bait opposing fans from behind the shield of his position and the Mavericks logo on his chest?  That's a huge issue...one that shouldn't be tolerated.

Here are the various solutions:

Blazer Fans...ignore the guy.  I have no idea what he's like in real life, but here he's acting like a poser and a fool.  Treat him as one.  Nothing would be more comical and just than having him pull his little routine while everyone around him just looks at him like the idiot he's being.  Frankly if he were sure his team was championship material he'd probably be walking with confidence in the first round instead of doing this, so chalk it up to his insecurity about his team (and maybe himself) and realize that what you're seeing isn't worth a reaction...isn't different than any 14-year-old trying to disrupt class to get attention.  Sorry Jimmy, we're here to watch a game, not you.

Referees and Rose Garden Security...if the guy is disturbing the game for others, KICK HIM OUT!  This doesn't seem too hard to grasp.  Nobody else gets to do this.  Players and coaches are busy concentrating on the game and don't have time for this stuff.  Fans are confined to a certain place and code of conduct and don't have leeway to do whatever they wish regardless of others.  This guy apparently has freedom from both.  If he abuses it, correct him just like you would anyone else. 

League Office...you know this guy shouldn't be doing this, right?  He gets to be a team official OR he gets to act stupid towards the fan sections of opposing stadiums, not both.  You're going to be happy when Detroit-Indiana 2 breaks out around him?  That won't happen in Portland, but it will somewhere.  But you know what?  You don't even have to wait for that.  The Blazers and Mavericks will play in Dallas again in this series.  There will be Portland fans at that game...fans who could well be seen by Dallas supporters as representative of all Portland fans, those "evil" guys who threw something in the face of Dallas' #1 Guy...a guy with whom some Mavericks fans identify strongly and personally.  How do incidents like this affect the safety and comfort level of opposing fans in the Mavericks' arena, now labeled as people who throw objects at Mavericks fans?  Mark Cuban is creating a tense, potentially dangerous situation in both cities in a way that a normal person unaffiliated with the team couldn't.  That means it's time for you to step in.

Mark Cuban...I'm not even going to talk about changing the behavior, because you won't.  But you know what?  If you're going to do this stuff, lets be fair.  If you're going to be a fan at least assume the risks of being that kind of fan even if you don't care about the responsibility.  If you're going to do this obnoxious fan thing, DO it.  Come out from behind the rail and the billions of dollars and the security screen and assume the place of any other fan.  After you've done your whole line of bull crap in the opposing arena for two hours you don't get to go to the locker room.   I want a lap around the concourse and three around the outside of the arena before you walk back to your hotel.  No security, no escort, just you.  The irony is, despite the attention this story is receiving you'd be fine in Portland.  But someone, somewhere is going to teach you why most people don't translate their passion for their team into this kind of display...a lesson that you're not understanding in your ultra-rich, consequence-free bubble.  When you've been on the wrong side of an incident--not just a paper cup wrapper in the face but the REAL wrong end--then maybe you will have earned the right, or at least respect, to do some of this stuff.  Or even if you personally assumed the risk that you are putting other people through with these actions, that would be a step.  Until that happens, don't even play like you're a fan.  Personally, I think a reasonably harsh object lesson would cure you.  I'd...uh...leave my wallet with the team trainer first though.  You know somebody's going to take that credit card to Red Robin afterwards and have one heck of a time.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com) 

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