America's sporting habits have always been a little different from the rest of the world. Soccer (as we call it) has long been the dominant sport in most countries, while across the United States our own homegrown versions of British sports have dominated our national attention.
That seems to be changing, at least when it comes to the world of rugby. It was recently announced that rugby sevens will be an Olympic sport in 2016. But perhaps more significantly, at least for an American audience, tomorrow rugby sevens will make their national television debut as NBC broadcasts the USA 7's Rugby Collegiate Championship taking place June 4-6 at Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.
As they say in politics, so goes Ohio, so goes the nation. As if to prove that this is rugby's moment, major sponsors like Toyota, Bud Light, Subway and Geico have all signed on to sponsor the March Madness-like championship and Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, has sweetened the prospect of winning for the participating teams with the announcement of a major donation. In light of Cuban's support, we decided to ask him just how playing rugby has impacted his life and success.
You played rugby at Indiana University. Tell me a little bit about how rugby affected your college experience.
It made my college experience. When I got to Indiana I knew maybe three people. I started playing rugby when I got to IU because I wanted to do something physical athletically. Pickup basketball games are fun, but rugby gave me a chance to take out all of my aggressions. I fell in love with it my first practice. What I didn't realize was just how important the rugby community and my teammates would become. The friends I met my freshman year, are still my friends to this day. They have always been there for me , from the bad to the good. And not just my teammates. It still amazes me that because of rugby, I can walk onto any rugby pitch, whether its to pick up a game, practice or just hang out and know I'm among friends. Anywhere in the world.
How has your contact with the sport helped you in the business world?
Rugby is a game of determination and learning to beat exhaustion before it beats you. Back when I played there were no substitutions, so you were in for a full 80 minutes. It's a game of never quit and determination. Starting a business is the same way. There are always times when you are exhausted, but you know you have work to do. My experience in rugby has helped me in every business I have ever been involved with. Plus, I played long after college in Pittsburgh for the Harlequins and for the Dallas Harlequins and Reds. Walking in to a business meeting with a black eye always led to a discussion of rugby which more than a few times helped me close business!
But you own a basketball team.
While basketball and rugby are very different, the need to prepare to be among the best is very similar. It was obvious among my teammates at all levels, who had the heart and will to be the best. This has helped me recognize those same traits among players in the NBA. The drive to be the best is a constant no matter the sport.
What are the six degrees of separation from your playing rugby and appearing on Dancing With the Stars?
There is a connection between Dancing with the Stars and playing rugby. In rugby, at least for me, there was always someone who was bigger, stronger and faster, and more often than not, since I played in the scrum, there would be a time I was going to have to hit them or be hit by them. I never shied from contact. Even if I was going to end up on my back, I was going to take the hit straight on. Dancing with the Stars was the same.
There were people who could definitely dance better than I could, but it was a competition and there was no way I was going to back down from the challenge. I had to work harder and longer than any one else. All while I was rehabbing from having my left hip totally replaced only seven weeks earlier. To this day, they still tell me I was the hardest worker they have had on the show. Rugby taught me that no matter the challenge, you come out ahead by taking it head on.
You have also started something called the "Mark Cuban Stimulus Plan."
I started the Mark Cuban Stimulus Plan on my blog because I'm a firm believer in the American spirit. That the best of our country comes from individuals who are not dreamers, but are do'ers. They are the people you never hear of, that outwork everyone, but with a little bit of support could accomplish amazing things. Rugby players embody the same qualities. No one plays rugby in the USA for the fame or fortune. They play the game because they love it. Just like entrepreneurs take on the challenge because they love the sport of business. I'm proud to help USA Rugby Sevens with some financial support, and I'm proud to help entrepreneurs with the Mark Cuban Stimulus Plan. Both do it for the love of the game
Do you think playing rugby has helped you in your personal life--say, in marriage?
This is the simplest question of all. Anytime you find a woman who will love you as a rugby player and help raise your kids to appreciate the game and tolerate when your grade school kids will join along in a not-so-family-safe rugby song, you know you have the perfect woman. My wife Tiffany has passed that test many times over!
What did rugby teach you about fitness?
I have never been in better shape than when I played rugby. It has given me a bar to always shoot for. My test for fitness isn't whether I can play basketball or work out. Its whether or not I can go pick up a rugby game and last the entire game!
What about style?
I always get a lot of grief because unlike other sports team owners I don't dress up. I can thank rugby for that. One of the great things about IU Rugby and every team I have ever played on is that there are incredibly divergent personalities. From doctors to plumbers to you name it. Each of us had one common thread, we never cared or pushed the other to dress to a certain look or to "be like everyone else". We basically dressed for the next rugby match and after-party. And if you dress for either, you know that it is far more comfortable and protective of your wardrobe if its something you don't mind coming home drenched. So I guess the best way to describe my style, to this day, is "dressed for the next rugby match or party."
It's not just a style, it's an attitude, and every rugby player will know exactly what I'm talking about!