The Dallas Mavericks may be a newly christened NBA also-ran suffering their first losing season of the century, but Mark Cuban’s ego has never been bigger, bolder or brighter. In a move only a self-righteous billionaire could love, the Mavericks will reportedly dress Tony Romo — yes, that Tony Romo — for their home finale on Tuesday night. Call it Cuban’s farce.
Romo, who last week announced his (forced?) retirement from football, will be in full uniform — No. 9, of course — for the game against the Nuggets, will participate in team meetings, shoot-arounds, the layup line and, if he doesn’t suffer a season-ending injury in said line, will apparently sit on the bench for all 48 minutes — the richest NBA cheerleader since Jim McIlvaine. It’s all part of a Romo tribute and a “very special sports experience” planned by the Mavs in honor of the city’s dearly departed QB. Mostly though, it’s a way to shine attention on a Dallas Mavericks team that’s been deserving of none during the 2016-17 season.
Cuban teased the signing on Friday when he said the team would bring in a “pass-first” point guard for the last few games of the season. This caused pundits to speculate as to the identity of the future Mavs player but — surprise! — it was just Romo. He was a quarterback. Quarterbacks pass the ball. Get it?
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So while teams jockey for playoff position, players go for historic stats and the dust settles before what promises to be a wild postseason, Cuban has ensured that the final days of the NBA season will be dominated by news from a team that won’t be heard from again until the ping-pong balls drop in next month’s lottery.
Romo played basketball at Burlington High School in Wisconsin where he shared all-county honors with former NBAer Caron Butler, who was on the Mavs for the team’s title season in 2011. Romo actually averaged more points than Butler that year and was named conference player of the year over him too. But basketball prowess means nothing in this publicity stunt masquerading as a celebration. It’s zero percent about basketball, 25% about Romo and 75% about PR for Cuban’s Mavs.
What is it? A move to sell tickets? To boost TV ratings? To get talked about on the internet, water cooler and (the insufferable) basketball Twitter? A misguided way to say thanks to the only athlete in Dallas more famous than Dirk Nowitzki? Yes to all.
To be fair, the Mavs have the largest sellout streak in sports but, with the team’s bad start and poor play this year, the American Airlines Center hasn’t been packed (which is completely understandable, by the way). I wouldn’t pay $150 to go see a non-playoff team either. The “streak” has thus been propped up by some of the usual shenanigans that ensure a sellout despite empty swaths of sections. (Any NFL fan tuning into a Redskins home game during the frequent lean years in D.C. know what a phony sellout streak looks like – the ‘Skins still have the longest one in sports, dating back to 1968, but games can sometimes look like this.)
If the Romo appearance sells a few more tickets, moves a few more jerseys and rings up a couple more $10 beers, it’s kind of brilliant. Had this been a Shark Tank pitch, Cubes would have made the deal before Mr. Wonderful had a chance to ask for 40% equity and a percentage of sales.
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This isn’t a rant or rave about how suiting up Tony Romo is the end of Western civilization. I don’t particularly care that Cuban is flirting with making a mockery of the sport or denying a sports dreamer the chance to sit on the bench for an NBA game. (He’s not even doing the latter. Romo is filling a roster spot that would have been left empty without him. Nobody is losing their shot at being a benchwarmer because of this.) So to call it a mockery is a little much. It does set a bad precedent however, especially because Romo won’t be signing the requisite 10-day contract (making him ineligible to play in the game), which opens the NBA up to various marketing loopholes via rosters.
It’s not hard to see how this could snowball. “Come see Drake in Raptors gear while ripping off the moves of every player on the team!” “Watch the guys on The Bachelorette compete for a one-on-one with Corinne that includes a moonlit dinner at the Griffith Observatory and the opportunity to sit on the Clippers bench and get yelled at by Chris Paul!” And then there’s the possible barrier-breaking signing of a woman, which itself wouldn’t be a bad thing unless it’s (to borrow a Bachelor phrase) done for the wrong reasons.
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None of those are very big leaps to make. Golden State doesn’t need to pull anything like that, but what about the Pistons, who’ve played to about 70% capacity this year? If they could sell out a game promising Eminem and Dr. Dre doing their version of Pippen and Jordan, they’d be silly not to try.
The whole thing is just contrived, hokey and lame. It reeks of desperation, calling to mind down-on-their-luck athletes running races against horses, heavyweight boxers working as casino greeters or minor-league baseball teams wearing Star Wars or Seinfeld jerseys and/or employing Tim Tebow. This is Bill Veeck showmanship from two parties that don’t need it.
This is the final memory of Romo’s athletic career in Dallas? Sitting next to AJ Hammons while looking weird and out of place in an unflattering basketball uniform? Standing on the sideline in the playoffs watching Dak Prescott do what Romo had done all his career wasn’t exactly the dream ending but at least there was some dignity in it.