After my recent column on buying devices like iPhones but not really owning them, Mark Cuban, as he sometimes does, responded via email: “Nice argument for NFTs,” referring to nonfungible tokens. I’ve known Mr. Cuban since the last tech bubble, when he famously sold Broadcast.com in 1999 to Yahoo! for $5.7 billion, more than Apollo Global Management paid Verizon for the remnants of Yahoo, AOL and even Netscape earlier this month. He smartly hedged his position and bought the Dallas Mavericks in 2000.
I’m not sure Mr. Cuban ever talks on the phone, but he’s sure quick with email responses.
“It depends what you ‘own,’ ” I shot back. By now, you’re probably familiar with the eye-opening $69 million dropped on NFT “artwork” by Beeple. Or the $2.9 million for the NFT of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s first tweet, which you can easily see online: “just setting up my twttr.” I guess you own something, I’m just not sure what.
“The NFT is the authentication of what you own that is made public for anyone to see,” Mr. Cuban explains. Today, “all provenance is siloed and not public. NFTs can change that.”
Little did Mr. Cuban know that I had been poking around NBA Topshot for a highlight NFT of Mavericks star Luka Dončić. One cool NFT goes for $120. But what’s this? A 5% transaction fee? Even more surprising, the fine print says there are potentially 9,999 other “owners” of the same highlight with asking prices into the thousands for the same NFT.