Ex-owner Perot's group not part of Mavs celebration, but it deserves credit

Jul 2 2011 - 5:40pm

DALLAS -- The roots of the Dallas Mavericks' championship run deep.

Owner Mark Cuban knew it when he had NBA commissioner David Stern hand the trophy to original owner Donald Carter nearly three weeks ago in Miami, a classy, moving moment.

It should not be a surprise that the only other owner in Mavericks history, Ross Perot Jr., was not on that stage, nor has anybody from his ownership group taken part in any of the title celebrations.

A lawsuit against the current owner has a way of changing your status to persona non grata.

But the indisputable fact is many of the Mavericks' championship building blocks were set in place by the Perot ownership group, which included David McDavid and Frank Zaccanelli.

People tend to forget that Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Michael Finley, a dirt-cheap payroll and American Airlines Center were already in place when Cuban arrived.

"I don't think anyone that knows basketball would question that we had made substantial progress before we sold to Mark," Zaccanelli says. "Everyone felt we had laid the groundwork and felt very confident that this team was set up for success."

Cuban is often credited for resurrecting the Mavericks from the abyss that was the 1990s. And he deserves kudos for not giving up and finally building a championship team.

But the journey got its jump-start from Perot and Zaccanelli, who had the job of pulling the franchise out of the garbage pit of the early and mid-'90s. Their arrival in 1996 started a chain reaction of important events.

Don Nelson was hired as general manager in 1997 and his son, Donnie, joined him. Together they unearthed the treasure that was Nowitzki and drafted him in 1998. On that same draft night, the Nelsons traded for Steve Nash.

With a real estate venture providing the land, Perot and Zaccanelli were able to swing a deal with the city to build AAC. They got plenty of help from a key Perot hire, Terdema Ussery, who became the heavy lifter in making the new arena a reality.

The Perot group re-signed Michael Finley to a contract of outrageous proportions because he was a rare breed: an All-Star willing to stay with a team that was going to the lottery every season. Finley, who became a mentor to Nash and Nowitzki, eventually won a ring with San Antonio.

Don Nelson took over as coach during the 1997-98 season, and he and Zaccanelli began the project of getting the Mavericks' payroll set up for the future. They ended up with a young team with three budding stars and a payroll of only $37 million, which put them in excellent position to recruit free agents and swing deals.

The Perot group identified Cuban as the next owner. For more than a decade, Cuban has proved that assessment to be on target.

"He's been the best owner in sports," Zaccanelli says, "because he has the most passion of any owner and he has the willingness to spend as much as it takes to fix problems."

As the Mavericks turned around their on-court fortunes, Nelson made a critical decision in 2003, refusing to play Nowitzki in the final three games of the Western Conference finals against San Antonio because of a knee injury.

It was the beginning of the end of Nelson's business relationship with Cuban, but who knows whether holding Nowitzki out saved further injury to the knee?

All but the last of those moments came under the watch of Perot and Zaccanelli. Clearly, their regime deserves recognition for helping pave the championship path.

Even so, it's not surprising they have received no acknowledgement. Perot, who still owns a small percentage of the team, sued Cuban essentially for losing money. It was a claim that appears baseless in the afterglow of the title.

"I don't know all the facts, but my personal position is that I would not have filed that lawsuit," Zaccanelli says. "Knowing that Mark paid a very fair price for the team, he's earned the right to run the franchise and spend money in whatever way he desires."

Just as the ownership group that bridged Carter to Cuban deserves to bask in the glory of this season, too. Its contributions can never be wiped away.

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(c) 2011, The Dallas Morning News.

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ARCHIVE PHOTOS on MCT Direct (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): perot jr.

 

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