Name Fame: How Sibling Celebrity Affected My Recovery Journey

*September is National Recovery Month.  There is no better day than today to start your journey or reach out to someone struggling. 

I am regularly asked how the celebrity of my older brother Mark Cuban played into my problems with alcohol and drugs. The first thing I point out is that my problem drinking, cocaine addiction, eating disorder, and other mental health issues such as clinical depression long pre-dated Mark’s ascent to international celebrity status.

My drug and alcohol use did escalate to epic proportions after he bought the Dallas Mavericks. In large part, it was because I had no sense of self-worth and self-identity. I had been searching for love and acceptance since I was a young teen and I sensed a way to finally get it, even if it was an illusion.  Rather than facing my myriad of mental health issues, I decided it was easier to be “Mark Cuban’s brother” and embrace “Name Fame” to take the place of self-love and the ugliness I saw when I looked in the mirror. An ugliness that only fake adulation, cocaine and alcohol could sooth. I think back to late December 1999.

I am working out at a health club in Dallas, Texas. I am unemployed and broke. As I’m standing there with a towel around my neck, staring blankly at the row of lockers and trying to decide if my dealer will trade some cocaine for unsolicited legal advice, I feel a hand on my shoulder. It’s Mark. He asks me how I am doing.

“Everything’s good.” I shrug. Well, that’s partly true, anyway. Not much is good in my life at the moment. But neither my brother nor the rest of my family knows anything about my descent into addiction. As long as I can maintain that illusion, things are good enough. Mark says,

“Listen, Brian, I have some big news, but it hasn’t been made public yet so you have to keep it a secret. I just bought the Dallas Mavericks. It’ll be announced in a few days. You can come work for me.” 

 I tell him, I’ll “think about it,” but there’s nothing to think about. I’ve just been tossed my lifeline. I am “somebody” again. A week later, the sale of the team to my brother is announced.

The announcement of Mark buying the Dallas Mavericks is only a few days old, and I’ve already had my own business cards printed up with the Dallas Mavericks logo on them. The card reads, “Brian Cuban, Corporate Counsel” even though I have not been given that position. I sheepishly brought out one of those cards and signed the back. Someone wants my autograph? She thinks I’m a co-owner of the team with Mark? No reason to tell her otherwise. Someone’s interested in me. Someone cares about me! It’s only name fame, but it’s my last name too, and I like it.

As my illegible signature takes form, I feel a sudden high. It’s almost the same feeling as that first hit of coke years earlier. I was no longer just “Brian.” I was Brian Cuban, someone with a name that needed to be reckoned with. Now I could journey into the social and nightlife world of Dallas with my new identity and false sense of self-worth. Free drinks. Free cocaine. No waiting in nightclub lines. Girls, who in my mind, would not give the real Brian the time of day, suddenly couldn’t wait to talk to me. I started cycling through relationships (many held together by nothing but drugs and alcohol) just as fast as I could hand out my fake business card. Frankly, my identity as “Mark’s brother” made me suddenly one of the biggest knuckleheads on the Dallas social scene. Part of me was very ashamed because I knew I was a fraud. I wanted so badly to just be who I really was, but was terrified that everyone would see exactly what I saw.

My sudden name fame not only provided more opportunity for me to feed my drug and alcohol use, but it was also a self-imposed obstacle to confronting my problems and seeking help. In this way, I understand attorneys who risk so much out of fear of the damage admitting addiction might do to their reputations. Of course it’s irrational; we’re all much more likely to wreck our lives by allowing addiction to progress than in confronting it. There is a saying, “No one ever ruined their life by getting sober.” The hardest conversation I have with struggling lawyers is to get them to see that today is as good as it’s ever going to get. But when your whole sense of who you are is mixed up with your standing in the community, when you feel the pressure of so many expecting so much from you, it’s easy to view seeking help as a risk.

Shortly after purchasing the Mavericks, Mark entrusted me as his point person for the construction of the soon-to-be-opened American Airlines Center (AAC), which would be the new home of the Mavericks, and in which Mark had an equity interest. My responsibilities entailed sitting in on construction meetings, taking notes, and reporting back to Mark with anything I thought he should know. It was a high-profile position sitting in with high-profile people also involved in the construction of the new arena.

It was important work that should have pushed me to excel and open up new doors to my professional future. Unfortunately, as often happens when addiction meets work life my level of competence and caring was limited, causing me to work up to only my very low expectations and not worry about anyone else’s.

I’d often show up hungover after partying all night. Sometimes I was still a little tipsy. More than a few times, I had not showered in days and smelled like a cologne factory. There were very few days when I offered anything to the process other than body odor and booze vapors coming from my corner of the conference table. Needless to say, I was soon no longer a part of those meetings, falling deeper and deeper into an abyss of addiction and shame, eventually becoming suicidal.

Part of the recovery that began in 2007 was learning that it is okay to just be me as a unique and worthy individual. The expectations that matter are the ones I create for myself. I am now continually trying to set that bar a little higher every day both in recovery and what I want out of life instead of working up to the lowest level of my incompetence as is so common when addiction is at play. One thing is certain. If Mark ever runs for president, you won’t see my own brand of beer.

Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at brian@addictedlawyer.com.

Is Law School An ‘Adderall Nation’?
The Legal Profession Has A Suicide Problem And Silence Is Deadly