It’s been roughly six months since Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban blessed us with his verbal stylings to pronounce San Antonio’s distinctive landmark “that ugly-ass, muddy-watered thing they call a River Walk,” but I’m guessing the barb still stings as you read it. I wouldn’t want to as much as wiggle my toe over the side of a river barge either, for fear of mutating into an X-Men villain, but I can say that. I live here. It’s like when I was a kid. I could torment my little sister as much as I wanted to. Roll her up in a blanket. Send her down a flight of stairs in a laundry basket. Call her vile names I’d looked up in the English-to-German dictionary. But if the kid next door as much as slanted his brows downward at her, I’d be smacking my fist in my palm and quoting Dirty Harry. There are invisible lines you just don’t cross. You have to know your place. And it seems that after a summer of straining to imagine the weight of the ’07 playoff trophy in his hands, Cuban has finally found his place hoofing it across the Dancing With the Stars stage with the verve of an organ-grinder’s monkey.
Dressed in coattails with hobo patches, Cuban made his debut with the fox trot and an expression otherwise reserved for men in air-guitar contests or pantomiming breast squeezes. Clicking his heels for the big finish, Cuban was surprisingly agile given that seven weeks before he’d undergone hip-replacement surgery.
“I’m not going through all this pain and agony just because,” he explained in the intro footage. “I’m there to win.” Then the camera panned to Cuban pausing between sashays to scrawl out his strategy. No doubt it read: mention hip-replacement surgery, mention daughter watching admiringly at home, mention searing pain from hip-replacement surgery, then drop trow to reveal ugly-ass, giant zippered-looking thingy I like to call my surgery scar.
Judge Carrie Ann Inaba added another pointer: “Keep your tongue in your mouth.” (Or, cut it with the air-guitar-breast-squeeze face, you fool.) Cuban and partner Kym Johnson scored a modest 21 out of 30 for their first performance. His tongue received a slightly more respectable 23. Despite the efforts, both tongue and dancer narrowly escaped eviction the first show.
Then in week two Cuban emerged, sans mustache and sleeves, and busted out some slithery Chippendale moves (imagine that facial expression again and suddenly you get more perv than verve) … and it got me thinking. What if Cuban’s surgery had been unnecessary? What if, just as the man himself had said, he really would do anything to win? Like replace a perfectly good hip joint with one forged by space-age technology and fitted for maximum swivel. Maybe it didn’t end at the hip. Spring-loaded heels, lithium-powered jazz hands — perhaps Cuban has become, á la Darth Vader, more cyborg than human.
Stars typically go on Dancing to coax signs of life from a flat-lined career or smooth a rumpled public image. Cuban’s motivations may be the latter. Surgery, cute kid rooting for daddy — see what I’m saying? This, San Antonians, might be Cuban’s way of reaching out, mending fences. And in the same way you felt bad after a few episodes for wanting Heather Mills’s artificial leg to somersault onto the judge’s table during the rumba, you may eventually feel bad for wishing Cuban’s tongue would catch on the camera dolly. But when he launches his Death Star into orbit over the AT&T Center, don’t say I didn’t warn you.•