February 17, 2004
Billionaire Boys Club

They're in the Money: The Maloofs and Mark Cuban

This was a great weekend for wealthy, overgrown man-boys in the media. Everywhere you looked, serious, august news organizations were indulging very spoiled, very rich men who've built their own Xanadus the same way boys build forts out of sofa cushions and bed sheets.

First up, The New York Times Magazine, which flatteringly profiled the fun-lovin' Maloof brothers. (The Flying Maloof Brothers by Hugo Lindgren—with photos by Tabitha Soren!) According to Lindgren:

To understand the Maloofs, you must first know who is who, and it's not always easy to keep them straight. The ones who are most relevant here are the four brothers. At 48 and 47 respectively, Joe and Gavin are the oldest, and they run the Sacramento Kings; even in middle age, they are as inseparable as when they were kids shoveling beer cans at their father's warehouse. George, 39, operates the Palms, and another brother, Phil, 36, is about to take over a new Maloof music venture with Interscope Records. None of the boys have ever married, and they lead lives that readers of any lad magazine must dream about -- an everyday mardi gras of cleavage, fast cars and front-row seats.

(That 'lad magazine' reference inadvertently echoes Julia Chaplin's A Night Out With: The Maloof Brothers; Boys and Their Toys from The Times 'Style' section last November when she said "If FHM or Maxim could invent their dream bachelor, he would no doubt be something like the Maloof brothers.")

What could be more fun than being a Maloof? They own a casino, a hot nightclub, a sports franchise, and—boo-yah!—they're friends with Britney Spears (despite the fact that they're all 15 or more years older than her).

What could be more fun than being a Maloof? Why, being Mark "Cubes" Cuban, of course! Cubes was profiled by Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes this weekend. (Self-Made Maverick). Here's the nut graph:

Now, at 45, he is living out his fantasy. And the best part of being a billionaire, he says, is shooting hoops with NBA stars in his own arena – even though a lot of people thought he was too goofy to be an NBA owner.

Too goofy? This is the man who had the brains and sensitivity to take the Kobe Bryant rape case seriously: "From a business perspective, it's great for the NBA. It's reality television. People love train-wreck television..." he told reporters back in August.

We like Gulfstream V-wreck television even better.

I thank god it wasn't Ed Bradley, my favorite 60 Minutes correspondent, sent to trail around behind the screeching, fine-paying owner of the Dallas Mavericks. Luckily, it was Kroft who played wiffle ball with Cubes in his gaudy McMansion's chandelier room (fun!), caught him mixing up the word "millions" and "dollars" (endearing!), and visited the converted industrial space that houses the Mavs operations office, which Cubes affectionately described this way: "It’s a sweatshop here and we’re proud of it... You can’t see the chains attached to their ankle[s]." (Witty!)

How disgruntled would you be if your boss said that about you just after appearing on TV in his private jet and mansion? I bet you'd think it was hilarious. (This is the most annoying segment from CBS News since Bob Simon played Waylon Smithers to Felix Dennis's Monty Burns on 60 Minutes II back in November.)

But the thing that grated the most about Kroft's Cuban profile was the subject's high-pitched, smug giggle, which punctuated every statement he made like a rimshot. (Presumably even that Kobe Bryant statement above.) After the fiftieth time hearing that laugh, I finally realized why its jingle, its cymbals' song sounded so familiar. It was the same sound heard by Nick Carraway in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby when he listened to Daisy Buchanan and concluded "Her voice is full of money." (But were her legs pinned back ceaselessly like a Safeway chicken?)

Spending so much time with the Maloofs and Cubes—men with bank accounts in the eight digits and emotional maturity in the singles—I was reminded of another Gatsby quote, one that sums up the 21st Century's billionaire playboys even as it speaks to the early 20th's:

"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."

I've got no beef with self-made men, but I wish they'd stop acting like boys and actually become men someday.

Posted in a Shallow fashion.

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