- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2001

Mark Cuban is a two-fisted owner.

He covers the checks. He also covers your back.

If his basketball team can't beat you on the floor, he'll just beat you up.

Cuban is the 13th man with the Mavericks. He has a strong laptop computer, a big mouth and deep pockets.

You step on one of his players. He will step on you. That is the paternal instincts in him. That is the spin coming out of Dallas anyway. The expression outside Dallas is nut case.

Cuban is in trouble with the NBA again, this time because of the delectable chalupa from Taco Bell.

They take the chalupa very seriously in Dallas, perhaps because a chalupa a day keeps the INS agents away.

They don't win one for the Gipper in Dallas. They win one for the chalupa.

Each fan is treated to a chalupa from Taco Bell whenever the Mavericks reach 100 points in a victory at home.

It is not the 99-cent bargain that counts with fans. It is the thought.

As it turned out, the chalupa was the only unsettled issue in the waning minutes of the Mavericks-Cavaliers game last Thursday night. Chants of "cha-lu-pa" filled the arena before Gary Trent delivered the crowd-pleasing shot.

Wesley Person took exception to the basket, if not to the chalupa, and attempted to receive a body-to-body explanation from Trent.

This is when Cuban felt compelled to respond to his paternal instincts. He sprinted to the floor from his baseline seat to save Trent from what he assumed was certain harm.

Cuban possibly was the only person concerned with Trent's well-being, given the tale of the tape. Trent is a 6-foot-8, 250-pound power forward, Person a 6-6, 200-pound shooting guard.

Person couldn't beat up Trent if a free chalupa depended on it.

Randy Wittman, coach of the Cavaliers, refused to bite on the chalupa. He was sick to his stomach.

"Our guys did the right thing," he said. "Somebody tried to do that three straight possessions where they could have run out the clock. That's unprofessional. I don't care what they have to say."

Here's what Cuban's body language said, "Give me a chalupa or give me a black eye."

The NBA gave Cuban a two-game suspension and a $10,000 fine instead. The fines are becoming a habit with Cuban. He is up to $405,000 in fines this season, usually because he believes he sees better than the referees.

Cuban is averaging $7,788 a game in fines. At this pace, he'll end up with $638,640 in fines this season, not counting his potential for mischief in the playoffs.

Cuban is a geek struggling to be a regular guy. He offered his place to Dennis Rodman until the NBA intervened. His wardrobe doesn't extend much beyond T-shirts. He shoots around with his players before games. He lives and dies with each call by the referees.

They say this is an example of his passion. That is what they always say if the person having a meltdown is wealthy. If he were Joe Six-Pack, he would be labeled a crackpot and someone would be calling security to have him removed from the premises.

Money can't buy you happiness. It can buy you a softer noun and a staff of apologists. Isn't that right, you-know-who?

At least the Mavericks resolved the crowd's hunger pangs without offending the Wizards Saturday night. The Mavericks hit the 100-point mark on the Wizards with 5:35 left.

Cuban is threatening to overshadow what otherwise is a nifty piece of basketball work in Dallas, orchestrated by the two Nelsons, Don and Donn.

The Mavericks are 33-20, coming out of their lottery-bound fog behind the talents of Michael Finley, Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash.

The elder Nelson, who is being treated for prostate cancer, is slated to return to the team's bench tomorrow night, in time to match with wits with the Zen master and the Lakers.

Cuban won't be in attendance because of his paternal instincts or the chalupa, whichever one you prefer.

So it will be left to the Nelsons, Don and Donn, to rally the troops.

Forget the Alamo. Remember the chalupa.

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