LOS ANGELES — Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, in L.A. for a downtown speaking engagement, couldn’t stifle a grin when asked about the current state of the Los Angeles Lakers.
“The more screwed up they are, the happier I am,” Cuban told ESPN. “But I feel that way about every other franchise not in Dallas. We all go through it. Every franchise goes through cycles, and when your down cycle hits you, it’s never fun.”
While Cuban offered his support for the Lakers’ ownership — “I love Jeanie,” he said of Jeanie Buss, L.A.’s controlling owner and governor — he was dismayed by former team president Magic Johnson declaring on ESPN’s First Take last month that he would be interested in buying the team.
“That’s a little bit self-serving,” Cuban said. “I don’t think Magic could afford them. And that’s no disrespect to Magic. That’s a reflection of just how well Jeanie has done.”
Cuban was in town for the Social Innovation Summit, which took place just about half a mile from Staples Center.
Cuban can relate to the Lakers’ struggles. Dallas is in a downturn, having failed to make the postseason each of the past three seasons after qualifying for the playoffs 15 of the first 16 years after he purchased the team in 2000. The Lakers’ postseason drought has lasted six years.
“I feel bad for Jeanie, personally, because she’s a great person,” Cuban said. “I have no sympathy for the Lakers any more than they had sympathy for us.”
Cuban is the father of three children. His eldest daughter, 15-year-old Alexis, is only slightly younger than Jeanie Buss was when she started working for the pro sports franchises owned by her father, Jerry Buss. Cuban said he can empathize with the family dynamic at play in L.A.
“Jeanie is smart,” Cuban said. “I think, not to speak for Jeanie, but the hardest thing for Jeanie has been that it’s family. And so there will be a time when my kids [take over], or not my kids, and I have to make a decision on how to integrate my family and who takes on what role, and that’s not going to be easy.
“So, Jeanie had to balance all that, and that’s a credit to her that she made her decisions. She stuck by them, and she made the tough calls. So, Jeanie gets all the credit in the world. And unless you’re there, it’s really hard to understand. How do you balance the personal issues of a family with what you want to do for an organization? That’s near impossible to make those decisions, and Jeanie had to deal with it, and she did the best she can, so she deserves a ton of credit.”
Talking about the Mavs’ Western Conference foe just a few hours before Game 3 of the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors, Cuban said the attention the Lakers receive is obvious.
“That’s just the nature of the beast,” Cuban said. “If certain players weren’t at the Lakers, you wouldn’t be having those same conversations. You weren’t talking about it the previous five years. There’s just a lot of big names associated with them, and that makes it different.”
Cuban was careful to refrain from mentioning the biggest name, LeBron James, so as to avoid any potential tampering penalty.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently told NBC’s “Today” show that James missing the playoffs and playing in the West rather than the Eastern Conference has “clearly impacted ratings.”
“In terms of ratings and stuff like that, we’re in a different universe now,” he said. “I don’t think it impacts the ratings at all.”
Expanding on his point, Cuban admitted that adjusting the start times of games, whether James is playing in them or not, to cater to the largest potential television audience would be a smart business practice for the league.
“What is the best start time for ratings? Because we don’t have to worry about people showing up for the games — whatever time we make it, they’re going to show up,” he said, adding that the 20,000 or so fans that would attend a game live would make the proper adjustments to attend a playoff game or a Finals tilt for the draw of that experience no matter what time the festivities tipped off.
As for the regular season?
“Adam [Silver] said it clear as day: We make far more money off of television than we do from tickets,” Cuban said, alluding to the TV deal the league signed with ESPN and TNT through the 2024-25 season worth a reported $2.66 billion annually. “So, that’s our biggest customer. And particularly, given the changes with streaming and everything and the demographic makeup of television, we’ve got to give that a lot of careful consideration. You want to optimize for television first, because even a regular-season game, there’s some funky start times and people show up.”
Cuban also used his featured speaking appearance at the Social Innovation Summit to address the lessons learned from last year’s independent investigation into the Mavericks’ workplace culture, which found more than a dozen women were subjected to sexual harassment while employed by the organization and various other serious allegations.
“Personally, do the right thing,” he said. “If you’re doing the right thing, inherently, you’re advocating. And you’re pushing things out the right way. At the Dallas Mavericks, I was an absentee owner in a lot of respects and screwed up. Big time. And we didn’t have the diversity that was needed, and I learned a lot of lessons from that. But it allowed me to also recognize that diversity isn’t just about checklists and having the right count of the right types of people, but it’s about using it as a business opportunity.”
“I think when you do the right thing,” Cuban added, “you don’t necessarily have to get out and advocate for big media-type issues or big issues that people are talking about, but you build an underpinning. You build a platform for the right thing to happen, and that’s what I try to do.”