Dan Gilbert's Tirade
Although I was only mildly interested in the LeBron James saga that's unfolded over recent weeks — and certainly not inclined to write about the fate of a Cleveland Cavalier on the pages of the Detroit Blog — it was the antics of Cavs' owner and Detroit native Dan Gilbert yesterday that really caught my attention.
After LeBron announced on ESPN that he was joining the Miami Heat instead of returning to Cleveland, Gilbert, who owns locally based lending giant Quicken Loans, went off on James. He posted a scathing letter on the team's website in which he suggested James "quit" in big games and accused his former star player of "cowardly betrayal" of not just Cavs fans but all of Northeast Ohio.
This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown "chosen one" sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And "who" we would want them to grow-up to become.
Be for real, Dan.
Look, I know plenty of people here are feeling Gilbert, the homegrown billionaire who recently announced that he was moving his company's headquarters from Livonia, Mich., to downtown Detroit, and that's fine. We certainly can use his investments. But his teeing off on LeBron was as corny and weak as the kid's self-absorbed traveling free-agency carnival, not to mention out of step with how local sports barons have traditionally gotten down in Detroit.
I mean, first off, there's the obvious hypocrisy to his attack: He wouldn't be saying these things about LeBron, although he seems to feel them sincerely, had James returned to play basketball for him.
Second, while I'm sure that Detroiter Gilbert loves his Ohio team and his Cleveland fans, he needs to cut the crap about James "doing right by Cleveland" (read: his rich ass). The young man made a cold-blooded business decision — something a Croesus-rich mortgage broker can surely understand, no? Gilbert going after Akron, Ohio, native James for "betrayal" is as silly as someone thinking Gilbert is somehow "disloyal" to Detroit because he doesn't want to dump Cleveland to buy his hometown Pistons. (UPDATE: Nor, as my friend Kim pointed out to me a short time ago, is anybody in this city casting hexes on Gilbert or calling him traitorous for backing casino gambling in Ohio, which hurts Detroit's gaming industry.) It's business (though, yes, I get why the fans would argue differently).
Of course, I also wonder how much business really does play into Gilbert's tirade. According to some reports, James' departure could cost Gilbert's team as much as $250 million in value. (Wonder if losing that kind of bread will impact what he does in the D.) I'd be mad too if I just watched so much money fly off to South Beach, but name-calling seems inappropriate. I was expecting something a little classier from Gilbert after years of watching Detroit-bred sports tycoons handle business disappointments fairly smoothly in public.
If you don't know, Gilbert is part of a colorful crop of sports franchise owners that Detroit has produced over the years, from racing's Roger Penske to Peter Karmanos (Carolina Hurricanes) to Mike Illitch (Tigers/Red Wings), William Clay Ford (Lions) and Al Taubman. (I still love those Michigan Panthers helmets.) They've been an interesting lot, one that includes recovering alcoholics, Kwame Kilpatrick loyalists and convicted white-collar felons, but for the most part they've had a history of carrying themselves like cool-headed businessmen when it's come to sports matters.
For instance, when Barry Sanders finally tired of the Lions' mediocrity and slipped away from the NFL forever, Ford, easily the worst owner of them all on the field, had very little to say. Yes, Detroit fans were all kinds of shocked and angry (though certainly not like Cleveland's), but Ford kept it respectful. Same for Bill Davidson and the Pistons franchise when Ben Wallace spurned us for Chicago a few years ago.
Gilbert's as good a sports team owner as many of the other local moguls, if not better. But when it comes to the type of attack he put out there in the wake of James' departure, he could stand to cop a page from the other guys' books and leave the mean-spirited childishness to the paying customers (like me...Blubber all you want, Cleveland; I'm elated to see James out of the Pistons' division). When fans get upset about a move like this, it reflects their passion. But when billionaire owners go off like Gilbert did, they just look like peevish boors who can't handle getting their way.
That's the kind of person I don't ever want my child to be.