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kriD
05-28-2006, 07:13 AM
Cheerleaders

By RAY BUCK
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

PHOENIX -- Sports team owners once chomped on imported cigars, rarely spoke in public, and were seen by their players only if there was a trophy to accept or a ceremonial ribbon to cut.

That stereotype is dead.

Especially in this Mavs-Suns Western Conference Finals.

The "old guard" has given way to the "new breed," and now even the "new breed" has been swallowed up, in part, by the F.T.O. -- Fan Turned Owner.

The Mavs' Mark Cuban and the Suns' Robert Sarver not only attend the church, they occupy the front pews.

They are the movers, shakers and screamers among NBA owners.

They frequently dress like fans. They nag officials. On some nights, they might be a bigger story than the game itself.

Sarver, 44, is three years younger than Cuban.

Since buying the Suns less than 23 months ago for a league-record $401 million, he has proven to be passionate, wildly successful and, at times, even contemptible.

Sound familiar? It should.

Sarver has been called a "Mark Cuban starter kit."

"I don't know that I really have a lot in common with Mark," Sarver said. "He [began] in technology; I've been mostly in a bread-and-butter business that takes 20 years to make your money."

Sarver, who commutes from San Diego -- where he lives with his wife and three children -- is primarily a banker. He is chairman and CEO of Western Alliance Bancorporation.

His Suns are Western Conference finalists for the second year in a row.

"I'm not as rich as most of the owners," Sarver said, "so I really have to make sure the basketball team is successful."

According to Forbes, Sarver's net worth is $400 million.

This ranks 14th among NBA owners, according to the magazine, which lists eight billionaires -- including Cuban at $1.8 billion.

And what is Cuban's take on Sarver?

"Don't really know him," Cuban said. "Seems like a nice guy."

What they do share in common is that each has his caldron of controversy.

In March of the 2005 regular season, Sarver went over the edge by even the most loosey-goosey standards.

He sat at courtside and goaded the Spurs by making a series of arm-flapping, chicken-miming gestures.

His gyrations were directed at Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who had decided to hold out two of his injured stars -- Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili -- for a game at America West Arena.

Sarver later apologized to Popovich, and now says he would gladly take a mulligan on that one.

"I have to learn that during the heat of the game, you have to control your emotions," he said. "Like with any business, there is a learning curve."

From what he has seen of Cuban, Sarver said, "I probably don't have as thick of skin as Mark does."

But as Cuban has shown in the technology world, Sarver has had some impeccable timing himself. He was a real estate developer in San Diego during the 1990s.

However, there are probably more ways that Sarver is not like Cuban.

Only one of them has had his own reality show on TV.

Only one of them has ever been fined by the league.

Only one of them has his own blog.

Only one of them has an entry in the Guinness World Book of Records, listed under "Largest Single E-commerce Transaction."

None of those is Sarver.

He admits that he isn't very computer savvy.

"My wife gives me a hard time," Sarver said. "I still put a business calendar on paper."