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Archive for June 12th, 2007

In 1992, Reebok set out to bolster interest in their Track and Field shoes by televising short advertisements capitalizing on a friendly rivalry between two decathletes bound for the Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. They ran frequent ads touting the Dan and Dave phenomenon, hyping up the inevitable matchup of two American greats.

Oops, did I say inevitable? [inigo montoya]You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.[/inigo montoya]

obriendan2.jpgThe whole deal fell apart when Dan O’Brien (left) muffed a pole vault in trials and failed to qualify. To someone like me, with a short memory and very little interest in Track or Field, that is where the story ended – a humorous cautionary tale for our marketing-mad times.

Not so, says the Portland Tribune. The newspaper’s Steve Brandon covered the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony, where Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson were reunited and immortalized on the same day.

“It’s really an honor, especially to go in with Dave,” says O’Brien, 39. “I wouldn’t have accomplished any of the things I did in my career had it not been for Dave. He was the guy I was chasing the whole time. He kept me hungry.”

It’s important to remember that Dan and Dave did accomplish great things in their careers. They just failed to live up to the contrived situation Reebok placed them in. Dave Johnson made the Olympic field in Barcelona and won a bronze medal in the decathlon in spite of a broken foot. Dan O’Brien, three years younger than Johnson, was able to come back for the Atlanta Games in 1996 and take a gold medal.

davejohnson.jpgBoth men give back by teaching. O’Brien trains young athletes in speed and conditioning, and owns a gym in Scottsdale, Arizona. Johnson (right) has been a special education teacher and is now the Vice Principal and Athletic Director of a High School near Salem, Oregon. In case you think a Bronze Medal isn’t worth the cost to melt it down, listen to the way Johnson uses his:

“When I need to, I put it around a kid’s neck and let them know I was once their age and had to make some changes in my life to win that medal. It’s an incredible tool to use. Kids listen.”

It’s all well and good to watch the inspirational videos during the Olympics, but it’s ten times more refreshing to realize that some of those soft-focus profilees really do go on to do special things with their lives. Too bad we’ll never know which one of them was “the best”.

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markcubanmfff.jpgInstead of looking at the sports implications of Mark Cuban’s proposal for a new professional football league to rival the NFL, I decided to look at the business implications of Cuban’s seemingly blind desire to meddle in sports ownership.

Now, I’m not worth billions of dollars, so who cares if I think Cuban is a good businessman? Nobody, that’s who. But Forbes magazine has written an article detailing Five Marks of a Great Leader, and it is through that prism that I will view the head of the UFL.

From the article:

1. Moral Courage

This matters most. It is the willingness to stick to one’s beliefs, to pursue a course of action in the face of overwhelming criticism, great adversity and, not least, the faintheartedness of friends and allies.

I can give this one to Mark without hesitation. He believed that he could take the Dallas Mavericks from doormat to contender, and he has done so. Along the way, he has made Dallas a destination for free agents by building locker rooms where you can drop the soap without having to check and see if Dirk is about to “post you up” – there are individual shower stalls instead of a group-prison scene.  (speaking of which, the blog Steroid Nation has turned up Mark’s blog about his colonoscopy)

President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have demonstrated it in standing by their Iraq policy.

Urg. Well, there’s always a downside. This might explain investments like The Benefactor , the toilet seat with a built-in bidet, and the UFL.

2. Judgment

When I need advice, I rarely turn to someone with first-class honors from a top university. I turn to someone who has knocked about the world and cheerfully survived “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

I think Mark is golden here. His parents were working class, he worked as a bartender, a dance instructor, and a party promoter. Cuban is a hustler, plain and simple, and he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

Being able to judge well is often linked to an ability to mix with and learn from other people–not so much from experts but from common people.

Yes, from what I hear, Mark Cuban has quite a touch with the common people.

3. A Sense of Priority

Sorting out the truly big from the small takes an innate horse sense that’s not given to most human beings.

Hmm… I’m struggling with this one. Mark seems to have trouble sticking to one thing. If you have a team that’s on the cusp of the NBA championship, do you really need to go tilting at windmills by trying to compete with Roger “The Punisher” Goodell? Just thinking about starting something this risky has to pull focus away from the things he’s already succeeding at – namely basketball ownership, and self-promotion.

Clever leaders often have a habit of pouncing on minor issues and pushing them at all costs, even to the detriment of their real interests.

Yep, this UFL thing has all the marks of arrogance and dilletante-ism. No soup for you, Cubes.

4. The disposal and concentration of effort

Leaders must allocate their time and energy.

This dude is definitely fidgety. He spends too much time trying to live up to the media-promoted image of Donald Trump, fighting with officials, and pulling publicity stunts. He doesn’t really have a core project that defines him – he’s always trying to find the next music-sharing service or toilet seat that shoots water up your bum. At least the Donald always has “Real Estate Mogul” to fall back on when his hairstyle implodes.

5. Humor

A subordinate always serves more zealously and obeys more faithfully a leader who can joke, and the public–painfully aware of the harshness of life–warms to a potentate who can make them laugh.

Here, at last, is the area in which Mark Cuban stands head and shoulders above all other NBA owners. He is quick with a one-liner and has a sense of humor about his own quirks. Some may deride him as an obnoxious nerd, but he brings life to the proceedings, and for that, we can thank him.

cubanpics.png

I can give Mark Cuban high marks for Moral Courage and Humor. But his Judgment, Sense of Priority, and Concentration of Effort are called severely into question. If the Dallas Mouth had chosen to compete with the NHL, I would have called him brilliant. But to take on the most powerful sports league in America at the peak of its popularity rates really poorly on the wisdom scale. Probably the best thing we can hope for is that Mark will let this one fizzle out and hope nobody remembers that he ever said anything.

But what the hell. If he goes ahead with it, at least we’ll have plenty to write about. Right?

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