Lebron James vs. Dan Gilbert: Who Really Killed Cleveland?

Today the hate is raining on Lebron James, and make no mistake, on one level, he has earned every raindrop. The self-proclaimed King turned his free agent journey into reality television with all the subtlety of Paris Hilton. He abandoned his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, gutting the value of the franchise, not to mention the economy surrounding the stadium. And he did it all to join superstar Dwyane Wade in Miami, becoming Robin to Wade's batman, A-Rod to Wade's Jeter, and telling the world he is forfeiting the chance to be recognized as the greatest to ever play the game. Short of sporting an "I Love BP" t-shirt, it's difficult to imagine how James could have handled this in worse fashion. Yet, this morning, many of us woke up feeling far more sympathetic than we felt when we went to sleep. That's because on the day after "the decision," we were all introduced to the odious man behind the Cavs, team owner Dan Gilbert. After Lebron made his announcement, Gilbert took to the Internet and penned a deranged open letter to Cleveland fans that would have made the Unabomber proud. Written in a creepy comic sans font, Gilbert wrote,

Dear Cleveland, All Of Northeast Ohio and Cleveland Cavaliers supporters wherever you may be tonight;

As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier.

This was announced with a several-day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his "decision" unlike anything ever "witnessed" in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.

Clearly, this is bitterly disappointing to all of us.


You simply don't deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.

You have given so much and deserve so much more.

In the meantime, I want to make one statement to you tonight:


Gilbert followed his letter with a morning interview in which he said, "[James] has gotten a free pass. People have covered up for him for way too long. Tonight we saw who he really is." "It's not about him leaving," Gilbert added. "It's the disrespect. It's time for people to hold these athletes accountable for their actions. Is this the way you raise your children? I've been holding this all in for a long time."

Dan Gilbert needs to spare us the moral outrage. Forget about the fact that this is an utterly graceless, classless move given how much coin James has put in Gilbert's pocket.

Gilbert is the man known as "Subprime Dan," the who made his millions as CEO of Quicken Loans, offering 0%, no money down mortgages to potential home buyers over the Internet.

This kind of legalized loan sharking of course wrecked the US economy. But it didn't wreck Gilbert. As foreclosures reached record highs in Cleveland, Quicken Loans reported that 2009-2010 has been their most profitable period in the company's history. Now as people throughout the state of Ohio have lost their homes and livelihoods at the altar of Quicken Loans, Gilbert has announced that he will be opening four casinos throughout the state. He also funded the state referendums that secured his right to legalize gambling in the state. Anyone who has been to a casino in Detroit can predict what their Ohio variant will look like: working class families—black, brown, and white—dragging their kids to the bingo parlor and the penny slots hoping against hope they can raise enough to keep the bank from taking their home—perhaps even thanks to a subprime mortgage courtesy of Quicken Loans. The point here is a basic one. If anyone has stabbed the people of Ohio in the back, it's not Lebron James: it's Dan Gilbert. And if we didn't understand why Lebron would want to leave his home town in Cleveland yesterday, we certainly get it now. Talk about a bad sport.

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C'est La Vie

I was taken back by the scorn that LBJ has gotten from the fans(other than Cleveland) and the media. LBJ made a decision to be Pippen and not Jordan that he thought was in his best interest. So be it.

When I saw the 3 amigos in Miami strutting their wares, it dawned on me that no sporting union/association can ever be the real thing. No union (plumbing,steelworkers,etc.) would ever allow their members to have such a disparity of pay as professional athletes are allowed. Could Joe the plumber make $60/hour while his fellow worker,LBJ, make $1500/hour. Professional athletes are not alone in this arrangement, the Screen Actors Guild is worse. At least LBJ's teammates won't have to wait tables as struggling actors do.

And for those people who want college athletes to get paid(I'm neutral), I can see in the future star quarterbacks wanting to get paid a lot more than walk-on teammates.

PS. Oh yes Gilbert crossed the line big-time.


Some of these owners are not so far removed like the one you mentioned in your article. Where the three players have signed, this particular owner runs the cruise lines.

Gilbert is an idiot...

I really got a kick out of Mr. Gilbert's deranged reaction. It's funny to me how upset these "free"enterprise guru billionaires get when one of their employees uses his own free enterprise and decides to me on. What did LaBron do wrong? He honored his contract. I really don't think he quit I just think that's sour grapes on the part of Gilbert. But Labron honored his contract, he led the team TO MANY WINNING SEASONS, PLAYED HARD and MADE THE TEAM (AND THE NBA) A LOT ,OF MONEY.

Then when his contract was up considered his options and decided to move on to more lucrative opportunities. Just liker what a good little capitalist like Mr. Gilburt would have done.

I get a kick out of these free market right wing billionaires who get so upset when one of their own employees decides to move onto greater fortunes at their expense. Doesn't feel so good when it happens to you does it? Ah, free enterprise, the glories of the free market at work at work. Dan Gilburt is a spoiled rich hypocrite in my book.

Gilbert is a bad actor...

not a victim. I have little doubt that he is trying to capitalize on LBJ leaving by speaking up for the fans of Cleveland.

I mentioned on the other story that LBJ's ability to leave was never in question. But he hurt the team and the fans of the Cavaliers by leaving the way he did. His made for TV production was a slap in the face and had little to do with his decision and everything to do with his self promotion. By keeping the Cavaliers in the dark when he had no intention of returning he kept them from pursuing other players and improving their roster.

Gilbert's upset because his investment is worth less than it was last week. While he is pretending to speak up for the fans, he is really missing the ticket sales, advertising and Fathead sales that he enjoyed while LBJ was on the team. I have no sympathy for Gilbert, a man who I'm sure used the same tactics that LBJ did in making his billion, but LBJ did the fans and the city wrong.

LeBron vs. Cleveland

This whole thing is like a leper beauty pageant. No one comes out looking good.

The person who really got burned is Antawn Jamison, his quest for a ring means that instead of playing for a crap team in DC, he gets to play for a crap team in Ohio. And everyone thought it couldn't get worse once the Wizards traded him . . .

lebron in context

the people bashing lebron were the same people losing sleep over how mj would satisfy his competitve urges outside of basketball...get out of the sports bars and off the sports talk circuit and consider the oscar grant decision that came down 2 hrs prior to 'the decision'...and any way i think it's quite intriguing that sonny rollins and john coltrane are going to get a chance to collaborate in their primes....too bad charlie parker aka kobe, can't join them.....bottom line: kevin garnett eroded in minneapolis, yet i hardly think his ring is tarnished today.....

well said Dave

something we can all agree one...well, all but those who utilize this comments section to criticize and denounce regardless of the content.

Lebron's a winner, Gilbert's a loser

The notion that LeBron would never have won a ring without other superstars is just plain wrong. Maybe he would have, maybe he wouldn't have, we don't know. We do know he chose to go play with his friends. We do know his game and talent are championship caliber. I remember Michael threatening to leave Chicago if they didn't retain Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Phil Jackson. He understood he couldn't do it alone. The myth of winning singlehandedly, by yourself, is just that, a myth. If the other two guys had joined LeBron in Cleveland, would people be making the same argument? How you go about becoming a winner, whether you go to them or whether they come to you, matters little. You still need help.

As for Dan Gilbert, his antics have almost been completely ignored because people are too busy crapping on LeBron. Thanks to Dave and Jesse Jackson for calling him out.

Dave has some explaining to do.

Oh, and by the way Dave. Aren't you the guy that argues that sports don't do as much for local economies as we are led to believe? You argue that politicians that want to build stadiums and offer tax and other financial incentives to acquire or retain teams are misrepresenting their constituents. Please explain how this is consistent with saying LeBron leaving is impacting Cleveland's economy in a significant way.

Who won?

Hey! It's great to see Spain come away with a trophy, Huh guys?!

A James championship in Miami will be his 61st home run

Wade is going to be the asterisk on any championships James wins in MIami, a city with a relatively recent NBA championship. In fact, Wade is #1 in Miami, while James is merely #1A. It's true that even Jordan needed a strong supporting cast in Chicago (that included the most overrated 'superstar' in basketball history, Scottie Pippen), but for James to have reached the mythical stature of Jordan, that supporting cast needed to assemble at his court in Cleveland (something the execrable sub-prime lender Gilbert was attempting to do), rather than him essentially admitting that shouldering a championship burden was too heavy a lift. The perfect situation for James' 'legend' would have been for Bosh to join him in Cleveland.
The comparison to Garnett is a reach. As good as he was in his prime (that had passed by the time of the championship he won in Boston), Garnett was never a transcendent basketball 'personality' the stature of James.
Jackson's comments comparing the situation to the tragic crime of slavery demeans the memory and experience of every person who ever suffered as human chattel. it's about as appropriate as the periodic comparison of every official enemy to Hitler.


Keep the mean spirited name calling out of it Tornado. We can share our opinions and be polite at the same time. You can do it.

"the economy surrounding the stadium"

Dave never said in this article that the Cavs benefit the economy of Cleveland as a whole:

He abandoned his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, gutting the value of the franchise, not to mention the economy surrounding the stadium....

And that is indeed who usually benefits from a publicly subsidized stadium where the team ownership keeps all of the equity in the franchise while the public coffers bleed. The businesses in the immediate vicinity of the stadium usually do pretty well, while nobody else really benefits.

The public stadium deals would be like the city or county I live in building a hotel for me while allowing me to collect the after tax revenue and have all of the equity in the hotel. A chimpanzee could make money off of that deal, so most sports teams owners are anything but "heroic entrepreneurs."

The "runaway slave"

Well stated Rick, but the point is why should Dave or anybody other than Dan Gilbert, and the few vendors in the vicinity of the basketball arena, care about LeBron's impact on Cleveland's economy. Implying that his leaving impacts the city of Cleveland in a narrow but significant way, is overstating the truth. I get the emotional connection between Lebron and Cleveland, but the financial significance of Lebron matters primarily to Dan Gilbert.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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