- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mark Cuban has been one of the most compelling figures of the NBA since becoming the owner of the Dallas Mavericks in 2000.

He repeatedly has been fined by the league for criticizing the referees and going where no other owner would be foolish enough to go, which is onto the court to break up a fight between angry men large enough to brush him aside as if he were an annoying gnat.

But that is Cuban. Love him or hate him - and there is no middle ground with him - he is not one to shrink from a fight.

Attack him and he will respond with a vigorous defense, often by e-mail. Question his stewardship as an NBA owner, and he will recite the moves, money and upgrades that led to the Mavericks being on the precipice of an NBA championship in 2006.

Cuban has been good for the Mavericks and the NBA, even if his actions have been over the top at times, even if he sometimes has blurred the line between owner and rabid fan.

Cuban is an energetic, enthusiastic, big-idea sort who believes in his decision-making ability and capacity to mold his enterprises into competitive giants, as you would expect from a self-made billionaire who grew up in a working-class family.

That unyielding belief in himself, normally a positive attribute, is possibly working against him now after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged him with insider trading this week.

As you might expect, the bulldog who is Cuban trotted out his lawyer, Ralph C. Ferrara, to pen the beginnings of a vigorous defense against the government. On Cuban’s blog, Ferrara questioned the conduct and integrity of the government, which probably is not the way to go with those who print money.

Cuban’s vast wealth cannot hold up to that, no more than Martha Stewart’s could. It was not the insider trading that landed Stewart a state-paid stay at a bed and breakfast with bars. It was the cover-up.

Cuban already should be working quietly behind the scenes with the feds to resolve the $750,000 question enveloping him. The feds say Cuban dumped his stock in Mamma.com after being told in confidence that the search-engine company was raising money through a private investment in a public entity and that his stake would be sold below market price. His action to sell his stock saved him $750,000 in June 2004.

Cuban, of course, could attempt to make the matter go away by agreeing to reimburse the $750,000 and paying a fine. That would be the prudent and economically sensible course if Cuban could strike that deal with the government.

His larger worry is the specter of criminal charges being filed in either New York or Dallas.

If Cuban mounts a defense, as he says he is planning, the case will be fairly straightforward.

Did he act on insider’s knowledge or not?

Cuban undoubtedly is working on the assumption that the allegation could compromise the essence of who he is.

He has been a leading proponent of accountability among the referees. That position was validated by the Tim Donaghy betting scandal.

But now with questions swirling about Cuban’s honesty in the free-market economy, that pristine voice is being sullied.

Cuban is said to have used his insider’s knowledge for monetary gain, which, if you think about it, is not much different from Donaghy.

That perception, fair or not, probably will cost Cuban his opportunity to purchase the Chicago Cubs.

It also could prompt NBA commissioner David Stern to take a peek into Cuban’s business dealings.

If there is one thing that rouses Stern into action, it is a perception problem.

All these unsettling dynamics are now in play with Cuban.

Worse, he is up against a well-financed foe who hates to lose as much as he does.

Vindication won’t come easily.

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