By Jason Whitlock
Special to Page 2

Mark Cuban reminds me of Ron Artest.

You fall in love with his passion, energy and versatility, but you realize his mental instability very well could wreck your entire organization.

As commissioner David Stern contemplates how to deal with the "Cuban Whistle Crisis," a predicament that could totally undermine the public perception progress the NBA enjoyed this season, the commish would be wise to consult his Artest playbook.

Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Whinericks, won't be fined into sanity. Bitching about officiating and paying a couple of million dollars a year for that right is nothing more than a simple, tax-deductible business expense for the league's best blogger.

Nope. It's going to take a prolonged, arena-banning suspension to end the "Cuban Whistle Crisis," a nickname coined by Washington Post columnist Mike Wise.

Stern should begin with a symbolic 13-day suspension of Cuban to start the 2006-07 season, then go with a season-long ban if Cuban acts up again.

Cuban's behavior and the conduct of Dallas coach Avery Johnson and superstar Dirk Nowitzki during the just-completed NBA Finals warrant far more drastic action than the $250,000 fine Stern leveled on Cuban before Game 6.

Not only did the "Cuban Whistle Crisis" overshadow the unveiling of Dwyane Wade as the league's most embraceable megastar since Jordan, but its fallout foreshadows a potential Artest-like eruption in the stands. Maybe you missed the American Airlines Center public-address announcer admonishing Mavericks fans not to throw objects on the court. Maybe you turned off your TV before witnessing Mavericks fans drown out with boos Stern's championship trophy presentation to the Heat. Cuban, Johnson, Nowitzki and the co-signing Dallas media turned Game 6 into a Rodney King-verdict powder keg. Mavs fans were convinced they had irrefutable video evidence of officiating crimes of the highest order. The paranoia of Dallas' out-of-control owner caused the normally classy and high-road-driving Johnson to lose his composure and melt into a world-class crybaby. Johnson's crying gave Nowitzki the out he needed to avoid eye contact with a mirror and instead kick chairs and exercise bikes rather than fourth-quarter ass.

You think Cuban's antics haven't planted the seeds of discontent that could blossom into a nutty Mavs fan going after a referee or sparking an in-arena melee?

Artest didn't hop into the stands without warning. When you heard that an NBA player ran into the stands and set off a riot, you were not surprised at all when you learned it was Ron Artest. You never suspected Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, Shaq, Reggie Miller, Rip Hamilton or Kevin Garnett. The list of candidates was very short, and Artest was always the No. 1 suspect.

If an NBA ref gets attacked on the court or hit with an object, you won't be surprised when the story has a Dallas dateline. Cuban has created the environment. His complaints about officiating have some merit. There's a kernel of truth in every extremist's argument. A planted bloody glove might win an acquittal, but it doesn't clear a conscience. The fact that NBA refs are inconsistent doesn't justify the "Cuban Whistle Crisis." Stern isn't out to get Cuban. Stern is nowhere near that small or stupid. Cuban, the Mavericks and Nowitzki are three of the best things to happen to Stern's league in the past five years.

It would've been far better for the league had Nowitzki -- one of Stern's white, foreign imports -- won the title and shown the kind of heart and determination Wade displayed. Stern didn't want Nowitzki to choke at the free-throw line, dish to Erick Dampier in the clutch and refuse to drive anywhere near Shaq and the lane in the final minutes. Had Nowitzki gone to the hole as relentlessly as Wade, he would've received the same bogus calls as Wade. Refs can't help rewarding superstars for being aggressive. Beyond the "Cuban Whistle Crisis," Stern must crack down on Cuban because he's sabotaging the message about professionalism the league has been preaching to its players. You think Allen Iverson isn't sitting at home taking notes on Cuban thugged-out in his Mavs jersey sitting behind the bench and acting a fool? Cuban is as big an NBA star as all but a handful of players. He represents the league. But he can dress how he wants, drop F-bombs on refs, taunt fans, charge onto the court and question the integrity of the league pretty much without fear of significant reprisal. Meanwhile, Iverson needs to wear a sport coat on the bench and report to work on time on fan appreciation night. If you had to guess, what do you think Allen and his homies have to say about this bit of hypocrisy? Just take a guess. It's time for Stern to censure Cuban and back it with a suspension -- a ban from arenas. A ban during the Finals would've been a mistake. Cuban would've been viewed as a martyr.

Now Stern can call Cuban and Johnson into the commissioner's office and explain in detail why the NBA can't tolerate Dallas' continued whining. It's unhealthy for the league. If not stopped, the "Cuban Whistle Crisis" will escalate and turn into a Crimson Tide.

Jason Whitlock is a regular columnist for The Kansas City Star. He can be reached by e-mail at Sound off to Page 2 here.