Maybe the weirdest part of Tony Romo’s cosplay as a Make-a-Wish kid living out his dream to be a Dallas Maverick for a day is that owner Mark Cuban had been secretly teasing it for a while:
With starting point guard Seth Curry ailing in recent days and officially out for the rest of the season because of a shoulder ailment, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has said on multiple occasions over the past week that the club would be looking to add “a pass-first point guard” before playing out the season’s final five days.
People within the organization, sources tell ESPN, say he has been referring to Romo.
Romo was in full uniform for the Mavericks’ final home game, and if not technically on the bench, he was pretty close—he sat next to Cuban on the baseline right by the end of the bench. It was more about lead-up than the game itself; Romo played on the scout team in the morning shootaround, where he showed off a still-pretty-good jumper. He later took part in warm-ups, and he obviously does have some skill.
That Romo’s got some game shouldn’t be a surprise at all—good athletes are good athletes, and Romo was legitimate star in high school. He averaged 24.3 points, 8.8 boards, 4.7 assists, and three steals his senior year, when he shared conference player of the year honors. (Here’s a photo of young basketball Romo, alongside a couple of future NBA players.)
At one point, Dirk Nowitzki said, Romo gave him some shooting advice. What, exactly, did Romo have to teach Dirk? “I forgot already,” Nowitzki laughed.
Romo was introduced with the team as the “sixth” starter, to the cheers of a crowd that included Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan, Jerry Jones’s wife Gene, and a dozen former Cowboys teammates, including Ezekiel Elliott and Jason Witten.
With the game out of hand late (Denver would win 109-91), fans fired up a particularly loud “we want Romo” chant, and Mavs players shoved Romo over to coach Rick Carlisle. Romo was retrieved by Cuban, to the boos of the crowd.
Romo couldn’t have gotten into the game even if Carlisle wanted him in there, which his quotes indicate he really did not. Carlisle had cover from the NBA: ESPN reports that when Cuban went to commissioner Adam Silver with the idea, Silver told him that Romo’s contract would not be honored by the league, and would have to be merely ceremonial and preclude his officially being on the roster or getting game time.
(Whether Cuban actually wanted that, or if he knew it’d be refused and only asked for it so he could come off as the cool guy whom the square principal won’t let have any fun, is an open question.)
Carlisle ran down the practical reasons to keep Romo off the floor.
“Signing him and stuff like that, would have been too much for a lot of reasons,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said before the game. “No. 1, he’s a football athlete that’s not ready to play in an NBA game. That’s very risky. No. 2, to sign a guy with all of our requirements from a physical standpoint with the hours and hours of screening and all that kinds of other stuff, it just wasn’t worth going there. And that’s not really what this is about.”
Unsaid was the potential to turn this into a sideshow, and plenty of people weren’t happy with the concept to begin with. Former NBAer James White:
I’m sympathetic to that argument, but I tend to find myself siding with Mark Cuban on this one:
“Anybody who thinks a layup line is disrespectful, hasn’t watched an NBA game,” Cuban said. “We’ve got people shooting half-court shots at every break, we’ve got kids for ball boys ... We’re entertainment. And if they’re so self-important they can’t recognize that, it’s on them. Not me.”
It is entertainment! Sports are entertainment. They may feel like more, because the emotional stakes feel real (and because the money wagered on them is real), but they’re here to give the paying fans a show. Romo’s day as a Mav was solid entertainment.