On Sept. 25, nearly a week after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban loaned the team’s private jet to point guard J.J. Barea, the NBA’s only active Puerto Rican player, to shuttle supplies to the ravaged U.S. territory.
Whether or not Cuban intended the gesture as a rebuke to Donald Trump, it certainly underscored the U.S. president’s tone-deafness. Trump spent the immediate aftermath of the storm criticizing the mayor of San Juan, and he didn’t make it to Puerto Rico until Oct. 3, nearly two weeks after the storm first hit. Once on the island, the president lobbed paper towels at citizens and boasted of his administration’s “incredible” response to the disaster, even as Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million people faced lethal water and power shortages and the death toll mounted. While Trump spoke of disaster-ridden Puerto Rico needing to pay back its debt “owed to Wall Street and the banks,” Cuban spoke to the importance of direct donations in times of crisis.
Long famous for his brash persona and pecuniary savvy, the billionaire entrepreneur began to demonstrate a keen interest in public affairs in the months since Trump took office. “I’ve developed a stronger appreciation for the impact of leadership in politics,” Cuban says via email.
Observers have long noted that Cuban actually shares many qualities with the president, including considerable wealth (his current net worth is estimated to be $3.3 billion), a blunt affect, and a certain affection for the limelight. But n 2017, Cuban started to look a lot like the president’s more civically minded alter ego.
Unlike Trump, Cuban did not grow up in a wealthy household. He started his first enterprise, a tech company, in 1982 with a $500 loan, sold it for $6 million a few years later, and, by 1998, had become a billionaire. He bought the Dallas Mavericks for $285 million in 2000, and his current portfolio includes Landmark Theatres, Alyssa’s Cookies, software companies, and sports technology and training companies.
Trump and Cuban have long enjoyed publicly sniping at one other. In 2012, when Trump’s TV show, The Apprentice, had been on the air for years, Cuban joined the cast of Shark Tank, a program on which aspiring innovators pitch products to financiers who invest in winning contestants and mock the losers. With Cuban encroaching on his reality show turf, Trump took to Twitter to claim that Shark Tank was relegated to a “dead television” Friday-night time slot. “Besides,” the now-commander in chief tweeted at Cuban, “you are not the star (& never will be).”
Still, for many years, the two men sustained something of a transactional alliance. When Trump announced that he was running for president in 2015, Cuban said it was “probably the best thing to happen to politics in a long time,” because while Trump could be “bombastic,” at least he spoke his mind. (It probably helped that Cuban loathed Ted Cruz, a fellow Texan and one of Trump’s opponents in the Republican primary, whom he called “Joe McCarthy reincarnate.”) During the general election, however, Cuban recalibrated, lambasting Trump’s refusal to educate himself on the issues and calling the now-president “batshit crazy”; he ultimately endorsed Hillary Clinton.
Since Trump took office, Cuban has criticized the administration’s travel ban on citizens from several Muslim-majority countries and raised alarms over its threats to impose a 20 percent tax on imports from Mexico, America’s third-largest trading partner. At an appearance at the Oxford Union in March, Cuban compared the president’s intelligence to that of a “ham sandwich.” And in November, he expressed skepticism about Trump-backed House and Senate bills to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent. “Competition drives what I do in my businesses a whole lot more than tax rates,” he said.
Cuban is now toying with the idea of running against Trump in the Republican primary in 2020, hoping to use some of the president’s own advantages to very different ends.
“As it relates to politics, I don’t think wealth, visibility, or fame has any inherent benefits,” Cuban says. But he adds, “What it offers is a platform that allows me to present myself, ideas and potential solutions and get feedback.… The feedback allows me to get smarter and develop a greater understanding of what people in our country are experiencing.”
Emily Tamkin is a staff writer for Foreign Policy.
Cuban celebrated becoming a billionaire by doing a “little naked billionaire dance.”