Mark Cuban and Don Nelson Feud Over $7 Million

It’s been well-known that Mark Cuban is an unconventional owner whose fandom and fervency borders on obsessive. That’s fine, and a welcome respite from the Donald Sterlings of professional sports, but it becomes problematic when he finds himself rewriting the record books on fines levied by the league.

Mark Cuban owned - CUBOWNED? Developing...
(And now there’s so many new layers of poetic justice in this.)

It also appears that the enmity that sometimes boils over has also targeted former Mavs coach (and current Warriors head honcho) Don Nelson. At stake is deferred compensation that Cuban, well, just isn’t going to pay, judges’ rulings be damned.

But to call it about money would be incredibly misleading; this feud goes back much longer than when Nelson’s contract started to dictate later payments be made. As the DALLAS MORNING NEWS reports, the transcripts from their arbitration dispute last month have been made public, and good lord, are they rough. All 200 pages of them:

Most Mavericks fans know the owner and coach were barely speaking by the time Nelson exited as coach and general manager on March 19, 2005. But the transcripts are sprinkled with new nuggets, like the fact that Nelson received a $1 million bonus from Golden State after coaching the Warriors to a 2007 playoff upset of Dallas. There are insightful anecdotes, such as when the Mavericks prepared to make the No. 5 pick in the 2004 draft. Nelson testified that he believed he was in charge of the draft until son Donnie pulled him into the men’s room and informed him otherwise.

That pick was Devin Harris, so while we’re not sure who Nelson would have picked, we’re pretty sure he couldn’t have done much better. Still, there would probably be better ways to handle the situation than that. Probably.

Still, as USA TODAY notes, the situation had been ugly for a substantial amount of time before that:

There’s deposition testimony from Cuban in which he acknowledges that he withheld consulting fees from Nelson in 2006 because he believed the former coach had “badmouthed” the team during the NBA Finals and should be made to “beg” for the money. There’s also testimony from Nelson in which he describes being so disgusted with Cuban that he signed a contract to stay on as coach in 2003 only after friends “got me drunk.”

As for the deferred salary that we mentioned earlier, it covers money earned over an eight-year span and federal judges have ordered Cuban to pay, something he has refused to do so far despite accruing $30,000 more in debt per month purely in interest. In the least surprising news ever, this probably comes down to Cuban taking their relationship personally:

Nelson contends that he legitimately earned the money. But Cuban believes Nelson should get nothing because he breached a contract that made him a Mavericks consultant when he took the Golden State job in August 2006. Although an arbitrator ruled in Nelson’s favor, Cuban has refused to pay the money, now totaling more than $7 million.

Nelson has also filed a defamation suit against Cuban in California over comments the owner made on a Bay Area radio show in 2007. He claims that Cuban, who was on the show to promote his appearance on Dancing with the Stars, defamed him when he said the coach’s demand for money was an attempt “to rip me off.”

In support of his claim, Nelson has included in his court filings an off-the-record e-mail exchange between Cuban and a reporter in which Cuban refers to Nelson as “sleazy” and having “no concept of reality or ethics.”

All in all, though Cuban probably doesn’t want to lose sight of the objectively large value that $7 million carries, it does seem like he’d be best served by realizing what a small portion of his worth and yearly business it represents, to say nothing of the damage done to his public reputation by the publication of these reports. And Nelson? We think he’d really like that money, but that it couldn’t possibly hold a candle to the destruction he handed Cuban and the Mavericks in the 2007 playoffs. Revenge is a dish best served whenever.