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Mt. Lebanon native Cuban says Pittsburgh is ripe for NBA

If Mark Cuban had given in to the NBA's plans, he could have chugged Kolsch beer along the Rhine while his Dallas Mavericks scrimmaged in Germany this preseason.

Instead, the Pittsburgh-born billionaire passed on the NBA's Europe Live Tour and brought his team to Mellon Arena for Wednesday night's exhibition game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"I became an NBA fan watching basketball in this building," Cuban said. "I think there are a lot of NBA fans here in Pittsburgh, and we have to cultivate them.

"I want to cultivate Pittsburgh not just because it's home, but because it's good business for the NBA."

The league keeps asking Cuban to take the Mavs to Europe or China. Put on a show. Build up the fan base. Grow those dollars.

Cuban keeps saying no.

"I just won't do it until they force me to," he said. "I think it's a waste of time and money."

Two weeks ago, the Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers played in front of nearly 14,000 fans at Kolnarena in Cologne, Germany. Last night's gathering for the Mavericks' 83-81 victory at Mellon Arena was more intimate -- 9,051, including Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a courtside seat -- but Cuban did not seem to mind.

"However many people came to this game, if they become Mavs fans or Cavs fans, that's beautiful for the NBA," Cuban said. "One Pittsburgher watching the NBA on ESPN or TNT is worth a million people in China watching the NBA."

The game was a homecoming for Cuban, who grew up in Mt. Lebanon and left about 60 tickets for friends and family. Last night, however, Cleveland was the home team.

The Cavs were introduced to the crowd as "your" Cleveland Cavaliers. During pregame warmups, the speakers blared ads for Cavs tickets amid the hip-hop music.

"We'd love to have all you ... uh, Pittsburghites• Pittsburghers• ... become Cavaliers fans," Cleveland second-year coach Mike Brown said.

Actually, Brown is a bit familiar with this city. His younger brother, Anthony, played right tackle for the Steelers in 1999 before being cut during training camp in 2000.

Brown laughed when someone mentioned that Cuban already has claimed Pittsburgh for his team.

"Cuban claims everything," Brown said, grinning. "He has more money than I do, so if he wants something, he'll get it."

Cavaliers forward Donyell Marshall grew up in Reading, yet was eager to play in Pittsburgh because he roots for the Steelers. He'd like to see pro hoops make more stops here.

"This is a very good city for the NBA to expand," Marshall said. "You have every other sport, so why not a basketball team?"

Before last night's game, Cuban said the last team he saw play at the Uptown arena was the Condors of the American Basketball Association. And he knows the city's only semi-famous hoops moment was when "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh" was filmed.

Yet, Cuban believes Pittsburgh is fertile soil for pro hoops.

"There's always been a great basketball foundation here," Cuban said. "But because hockey and basketball are in the same season, it's difficult to support two teams at once."

Cuban could have bought into hockey by purchasing the Penguins. He has the cash, but said he doesn't have the time to commit to another franchise.

Cuban said his recent offer to be a minor investor with prospective Penguins owner Jim Balsillie was turned down.

"He'll do a great job," Cuban said.

The Mavericks and Cavaliers held separate shootarounds yesterday morning, so the Penguins were forced to pack up and practice at the Neville Island complex.

Shortly after 10 a.m., Sidney Crosby walked out of the Pens' locker room, dressed in full gear -- except for the tennis shoes on his feet -- and carrying a bulky equipment bag.

As he lugged his stuff to the bus, Crosby passed Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki, laughing and smiling as he strolled into the arena.

For this day, at least, the NBA was the big show at Mellon Arena.

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