EuroLeague CEO Jordi Bertomeu took issue with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on Monday, responding to Cuban's blog critique of the NBA's involvement in promoting the sport in Europe -- in which Cuban wondered aloud if the NBA was "subsidizing a world-class competitor."
Bertomeu noted that Cuban's Dallas Mavericks have prospered thanks to one of Europe's best players, Dirk Nowitzki, and emphasized that the EuroLeague's relationship with the NBA is not competitive.
In the blog entry, Cuban quoted Bertomeu as saying "I believe the main problem is not that players go away, because they go and come back, too. We have to grow and make Euroleague Basketball attractive enough that they don't go away. That's our job."
"I guess I never really followed the business aspirations of the Euroleague, but one thing becomes amazingly clear in reading his remarks," Cuban said in his blog. "Mr. Bertomeu doesn't want to be a minor league or feeder system to the NBA. He wants to compete with the NBA."
Cuban then went on to individualize his criticism, invoking the fable of the scorpion and the frog to describe Bertomeu's actions.
"The scorpion professes his love for the frog," continued Cuban. "The frog puts the scorpion on his back and takes him across the pond that the scorpion would not otherwise be able to cross. On the other side the scorpion basically looks at the frog, says 'thanks for the ride, but I'm still a scorpion' and stings and kills the frog."
"After reading this, and I'm only surmising here, Jordi may feel that he can use the NBA as a frog to get his league across the pond and prove his league is the NBA's equal. Smart guy," Cuban wrote.
"Why not let the NBA spend tons of money around the world to develop the game of basketball. For the Euroleague its simply a marketing subsidy. Why not let the NBA pay their own way to come over and use their biggest stars to promote and brand Euroleague teams, league and players to his fans and customers," Cuban asked. "If players anywhere in the world, including the USA start understanding that Euroball is as good, and in the eyes of some purists, better basketball than the NBA, why wouldn't American players choose playing Euroleague instead of the NBA? Why wouldn't non-American players choose to stay here rather than go to the NBA?"
But the scorpion-and-frog image, among many other claims, incited the anger of Bertomeu, who responded to Cuban's comments on Monday.
"First of all, I don't like the symbolism of the frog and the scorpion," said Bertomeu. "I expect better from an NBA owner with his cultural background. He could have used another expression. ... I don't want to fight or argue with him, I have never met this guy but I respect him and I expect the same in return."
"It is curious that the NBA in Europe is being criticized for trying to 'invade' Europe, now, at the same time, we are being accused of trying to do the same thing," Bertomeu said. "Maybe the truth lies in between and maybe we are doing this the right way."
"If you don't see the evolution of basketball in the medium or long-term then you cannot understand this deal we have with the NBA. For us it is a question of promoting the sport in Europe, but also outside Europe because this tournament has created terrific interest all around the world," he said.
"For [Cuban], it is exactly the same. Today, because of [David Stern's] policy of globalization, many NBA teams are enjoying European players and I think that Dallas are enjoying one of the best. Maybe he should have thought about it more before attacking us."
The irony that the Mavericks' success has been largely carried on the shoulders of Germany's Nowitzki was not lost on Bertomeu, who also resented Cuban's portrayal of the relationship between the two leagues as an adversarial one. The headline of Cuban's blog entry was "The NBA vs the Rest of the World."
"It is just the opposite," responded Bertomeu. "We have always had a very open and honest relationship with the NBA because we never asked the NBA for anything. During all these years, we never asked for anything or showed any interest in anything other than how we could do things together to help the promotion of basketball in Europe and across the world."
"This is a relationship, not a competition between us. We're not trying to take advantage of anyone, there are no ulterior motives, everything is up front and on the table," Bertomeu said. "This guy [Cuban] has more information than I have and he can check results but what is wrong is to contrast things they are doing outside America with things they are doing inside America. It doesn't make sense. The NBA can do both."
NBA commissioner David Stern attempted to inject a little levity into the situation when speaking in Cologne, Germany, before Wednesday night's doubleheader that culminates the NBA Europe Live tour.
"I call Jordi a 'scorpion' all the time! I never turn my back," joked Stern. "We had a good laugh about that. That wouldn't be the first word that comes to mind when you talk about Jordi. I was sorry that my friend Jordi felt he had been assailed because sometimes it requires knowledge to accurately assail and I think there wasn't any reflected in the remarks about Jordi."
One of Cuban's other claims was that a successful EuroLeague would eventually bring an end to the constant stream of high quality international players signing for NBA clubs.
Bertomeu conceded that Cuban had a point about the EuroLeague wanting to keep its best players, but added that simple economics dictate that will not be possible for many years, if ever.
"I have to say this is our goal," said Bertomeu. "We are not working to be a second division competition, nobody is interested in that. But when you reflect on the gap we have with the NBA, we have our strongest teams with a budget of 22-25 million Euros ($27 million-$31.5 million) competing with NBA teams with $100-125 million. We can't compete with this."
A more pressing issue for the 24-team European league is the fact that so many top European prospects are drafted and signed by NBA teams, only to see their development halted at the end of benches or in the D-League, Bertomeu said.
"Each club, each league wants to have the best players," he said. "The question is who is in the best market position to have the best players and the second question is the ambition of the players.
"Now, we realize that the biggest market is the NBA, but it is a legitimate aspiration of ours to be in a position where we can offer our players similar conditions to those they have in the NBA. Nobody can criticize us for that," he said.
"The problem we have to solve with the NBA comes where these players are sitting on a bench or going to the development league instead of playing quality minutes on our teams in a strong competition. We lose those players -- I don't mean EuroLeague, I mean basketball loses those players."
Bertomeu would like to see a situation where European players are not allowed to be signed by NBA teams until they reach 22, although he concedes the involvement of the NBA Players' Union may make such legislation impossible.
"But," he continued. "This year we have made a commitment to work on this and I am optimistic that in a few months we will be able to make a proposal."
Ian Whittell covers the NBA for The London Times and BSkyB.