In 2001, Mark Cuban was in just his third season as the owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, when Michael Jordan — arguably the greatest basketball player ever to play the game — announced that he was coming out of retirement to return to the NBA.
So Cuban took his shot. And that meant promising the six-time NBA champion that Cuban would do "whatever it takes" to create a winning environment around Jordan, the billionaire entrepreneur tells CNBC Make It.
Cuban, who is now also a star of ABC's "Shark Tank," sat down with Jordan and the player's agent, David Falk, to make his pitch for "Air Jordan" to join the Mavericks for the 2001 NBA season, Cuban recently told Dallas' 105.3 The Fan in a radio interview.
The only problem was that Jordan had already announced his plans to play for the Washington Wizards, the team he had joined as a minority owner and president of basketball operations a year earlier.
But Cuban still felt like it was worth getting a meeting with Jordan and Falk to see if he could make a winning sales pitch. When Cuban went to Falk's office, he told The Fan, Jordan's contract with the Wizards was in the office, waiting to be signed.
"I went to David Falk's office and all the papers were right there," Cuban said. "And I was trying to convince MJ to not sign them and to do something with the Mavs."
So what exactly was Cuban's sales pitch? Essentially, Cuban told Jordan that he'd have a better shot at winning another title if he played for the Mavericks instead of the Wizards, Cuban tells CNBC Make It.
"'We are going to be better, and I'll be more creative and aggressive and will do whatever it takes to win,'" Cuban says he told Jordan in that meeting.
However, Cuban still couldn't talk Jordan out of honoring his agreement with the Wizards.
"He was a man of his word and said he wouldn't go back on his commitment," Cuban says of Jordan. "So that part of the meeting was very, very, very short."
To be fair, the odds were likely stacked against Cuban convincing Jordan to ditch his deal with the Wizards. After all, that team had essentially given Jordan full control to dictate the terms of his NBA return, with Jordan running the team's basketball operations and even hiring Doug Collins (his friend and former coach with the Chicago Bulls) as the Wizards' head coach.
Still, Cuban certainly had a point with regard to the Mavericks' chances of fielding a winning team. Even without Jordan in tow, Dallas averaged more than 58 wins (in an 82 game schedule) over the next two seasons, finishing in second place in their division twice and reaching the conference finals in the playoffs in 2003.
By contrast, Jordan and the Wizards won only 37 games in each of those two seasons and failed to make the playoffs at all before Jordan retired again in 2003.
Jordan wasn't the only former member of the Chicago Bulls' mid-1990s dynasty who Cuban had sought for the Mavericks. Cuban had briefly signed Jordan's former teammate, Dennis Rodman, shortly after Cuban bought the Mavericks in 2000. Rodman only played 12 games with the Mavericks that season before being released mid-season, but the NBA Hall-of-Famer still says he "learned a lot" from Cuban during his time in Dallas.
Neither Falk nor a spokesperson for Jordan immediately responded to CNBC Make It's request for comment.
Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to "Shark Tank."
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