He’s never been afraid to say it like it is. Whether he’s telling an entrepreneur that her idea stinks or screaming at an NBA referee that his call was wrong, Mark Cuban has a way of letting those who stand in front of him know he means business.
It is business, after all, that has helped the 55-year-old businessman earn a name and living for himself. Mt. Lebanon’s most famous billionaire has invested his entire life into media, technology and sports. Most known as the outspoken owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, Cuban has toned down his edgy persona as a business investor on the ABC hit reality television show, Shark Tank. His success, however, did not happen overnight. It began right here in the South Hills.
The Mt. Lebanon Years
Cuban was born into a Jewish working-class family, where both of his parents, Norton and Shirley, shaped his life for big things. Norton held a unique occupation as a talented automobile upholsterer. It was in Scott Township’s Birdland where Mark first attended Nixon Elementary and then John Dewey Junior High for half a year. That’s when his parents moved the family to Mt. Lebanon along busy Bower Hill Road. With brothers Brian and Jeff by Mark’s side, the Cubans quickly found comfort in their new community. Mark attended Jefferson Jr. High School, and sports played an important part in his life.
“It was great growing up on Bower Hill Road,” says Cuban. “I was close to all of my friends. We had access to fields to play ball on. You name it. I loved growing up in Lebo.”
In high school, Cuban had great relationships with his teachers. While he won’t specifically point out those who inspired him (he feels there are too many), he jokingly claims that if any are still currently teaching—then they would be his favorite.
Not everything came easy for Cuban. As a self-proclaimed sports nut, he tried out for the Mt. Lebanon boys’ basketball program and failed to make the team. It was a bitter feeling that ultimately led him to discover other avenues of challenge.
“As far as shaping me as an adult, I think the education I got at Mt. Lebanon was critical,” he says. “I think that Mt. Lebanon, my family and my friends all taught me that anything was possible. I made some of my best lifetime friends at Mt. Lebanon. They are still some of my best friends, and we stay in close contact. I get back to Pittsburgh at least once a year and we take in a game.”
Walnut Capital President Todd Reidbord, Cuban’s friend since junior high, is among the tight-knit group of Lebo grads, including Jerry Katz, Stu Chaban and Steve Rosen, who Cuban comes to town to see.
“We typically go to a Pirate game,” says Reidbord. “People recognize him and come up, and he always has time to talk to them. He’s really down to earth. He doesn’t act like a celebrity.
“Last year, we went to the Saloon one night and sat at the bar with him and watched Shark Tank. He was just hanging out with the hometown people. A few people took pictures, but they left him alone. Nobody bothered him.”
College and Beyond
Early on, Cuban showed he wasn’t afraid to take the road less traveled. Instead of attending his senior year of high school at Mt. Lebanon, he enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh and had those credits transferred so he could graduate from Mt. Lebanon. However, after just one year at Pitt, he transferred to Indiana University in Bloomington. In 1981, he graduated from the Kelley School of Business with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He would return to Pittsburgh during summers and tend bar or work as a doorman. Typically this took place in the shadows of the Cathedral of Learning in Oakland. Cuban then skipped town and headed south to Dallas, Texas, and found work initially as a bartender.
Growing Roots in Big D
While in Dallas, Cuban quickly turned in his bar towel and put his business degree to work. After gaining some experience as a salesman for another company, he started his own business called MicroSolutions. He meticulously grew the company, which specialized as a system integrator and software reseller. In 1990, Cuban sold MicroSolutions to CompuServe and became an instant millionaire. But that was just the beginning. He joined a college buddy to start Audionet, a webcasting service that would later be named Broadcast.com, and the company started to boom. In 1999, as the Internet exploded in popularity, Yahoo! acquired Broadcast.com for $5.9 billion in Yahoo! stock. Today, Cuban is among the richest people in the world with a net worth of $2.3 billion. His other ventures currently include 2929 Entertainment, Magnolia Pictures, Landmark Theatres and AXS-TV (found locally on Verizon FiOS channel 569, DirectTV channel 340, Dish channel 9422).
A True Maverick
Since 2000, Cuban has been the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and has a ring from the 2011 NBA Championship to prove his success. He’s a players’ owner, with a very visible face near the huddle. When his schedule permits, he attends every game, and can be found sitting near his team, communicating with them more than any other owner seen before. NBA referees also know Cuban personally—or at least their ears do. While there’s not an official tabulation of his career fines, some estimate that the NBA has penalized Cuban nearly $2 million dollars since 2000 for various verbal abuse toward referees or the league itself. In almost every case, Cuban has matched the fine to benefit various charities. As for his part in claiming an NBA Champion in 2011, Cuban feels there truly is not a better feeling.
“Amazing,” Cuban says. “Everyone in Pittsburgh knows what it’s like when the Steelers win the Super Bowl, or back when the Pirates or Penguins won championships. To be part of such an amazing run and seeing the city get behind us and lift the spirits of everyone was incredible. And of course, staring at the trophy right now brings back great memories.”
The Biggest Shark in the Tank
If you didn’t know Mark from his sports accomplishments, you undoubtedly know him from the hit ABC reality television show Shark Tank. Joined by other venture capitalists such as Lori Greiner, Kevin O’Leary, and Daymond John, to name a few, Cuban acts as a “shark” in order to make decisions to invest their own money in aspiring entrepreneurs. The “sharks” hold the power to offer an investment deal, but the decision is ultimately up to the entrepreneur. Whether inventive pitches are flawed or solid, the “sharks,” like Cuban, only invest if they truly feel the idea can be profitable and beneficial.
“It shows everyone that the American Dream is alive and well,” says Cuban. “If the entrepreneurs on the show can be successful, so can anyone who works hard.”
A Gentler Cuban Gives Back to Lebo
Cuban has quietly continued to support his roots in Mt. Lebanon. Some charities and foundations in our area receive donations from Cuban without others noticing, and that’s just the way he likes it. In other more noticeable situations, he helps local athletes. For example, in late 2013, he and his broadcasting network, AXS-TV, sponsored the Mt. Lebanon High School Boys Tip-Off Tournament. The tourney was a key part of the opening of the new high school gymnasium.
“I have done some other things, but I always do them anonymously,” says Cuban. “As far as Lebo basketball, it’s for a couple of reasons. The first is that I’m obviously a huge basketball junkie. The second is that I got cut from the high school team twice. So I love the irony of sponsoring the team. But I’m always a Blue Devil fan, so it’s fun to help out as well.”
This more caring side of Cuban comes from family life. In 2002, Cuban married his wife, Tiffany, with whom he has two daughters, Alexis and Alyssa, and a son, Jake. It is family that has humbled this billionaire over the years, and now he approaches things in a whole new light.
“It used to be that my business was my primary focus. Now it’s my kids and family that come first all the time,” says Cuban. Sounds like Mt. Lebanon through and through. —firstname.lastname@example.org