Though Mavs and Spurs fans may hate each other, I’ve honestly never had the impression that the Mavs and the Spurs themselves hate each other. Manu Ginobili can get under anyone’s skin and Jason Terry’s in-game yapping and posturing is sure to drive some opponents batty, but Mavs-Spurs seems predicated more on mutual respect than bile. Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki praise each other frequently, there’s physical play but little extracurricular contact (particularly with no Bruce Bowen around to play the villain), and the built-in tension isn’t because of a history of shenanigans, but because the teams have played each other so well so often.
That’s why Mark Cuban’s comments about “hating” the Spurs should surprise you in principle, if not in practice.
I don’t know that anyone on the Mavs roster hates the Spurs. They may not relish the thought of playing another tough game against a pretty terrific San Antonio team, but I think ‘hate’ would go far beyond the civility that has made this rivalry so intriguing. I don’t think Cuban hates the Spurs, either (he actually clarified his quote as a “respectful hate,”). After all, it wasn’t long ago that his team was constructed almost entirely in San Antonio’s image, including plugging in a former Spurs point guard as the head coach.
Gregg Popovich agrees, and he cites the visiting locker room cuisine as evidence. From Eddie Sefko and Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News:
On Wednesday, Cuban admitted the line, along with his annual crack about the San Antonio River’s cleanliness, “was gamesmanship. Just to increase the rivalry. Sell tickets.”
Popovich seemed to interpret Cuban’s words in that spirit. “It’s an exaggeration,” Popovich said. “If he hates us so much, he wouldn’t have that good barbecue in the locker room after the game.”
This is what Mark Cuban does. He drops some quotes to get the fans of both teams riled up, he creates additional interest (even in a series that needs it not), and puts himself in the middle of the action. What a lot of people don’t understand, though, is that while this is what Cuban does, it’s not who Cuban is.
I wouldn’t claim to be best friends with the man, but quotes such as these are gamesmanship, just as Mark described. This isn’t a “what will he say next?” owner riffing himself into shocking statement after shocking statement, but one who fully understands the implications of his actions and yet still chooses to do them in order to elicit a specific response. The only thing that’s shocking is that so many people are still taking the bait.