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A Deeper Look at Dan Gilbert’s Letter

This is a special contribution from Dynasty Athlete Representation‘s Human Resources Director, Justin Herzig.

What you do know: Lebron left Cleveland.

What you may not know: Owner Dan Gilbert made a rather unexpected response.  I suggest you read his letter before continuing on with this post.

The immediate reactions to this letter have undoubtedly been charged by emotions, as is completely understood.  On various blogs and message boards, many are praising Gilbert for his candidness while others criticize his immaturity in the way he reacted.  Some are even comparing his letter to a (long) drunken text message you send to an ex.  Rather, let’s put our business hats on and try to understand the motives behind this letter.  I have a feeling this letter will be analyzed in sport business classes for years to come.

Quickly, let’s look at the target audience.  As stated in the first line, this letter is for any and all Cleveland fans.  Granted, there are inevitably some potential spillover effects, but when analyzing this letter, it must be done while understanding that the target audience is Cleveland fans.

Some might argue that Gilbert should have been above this and remained more professional, and usually this school of thought is correct.  But given the circumstances, I disagree.  The problem is he has been attacked in the past for “not caring enough” or “not committing enough to help Lebron win a championship.” If he would have taken the high road stance here and not said anything, I think the anger against Lebron would soon turn into anger against the organization.  Had the situation played out a bit differently, it is not a stretch to believe that Lebron could have left Cleveland and still been liked and respected by the fans.  However, this would be the absolute WORST case scenario for Gilbert and the Cavs.  Any new fans they gained during the Lebron era would be in jeopardy as fans would have to choose between their former hero, Lebron, and the current state of the Cavaliers.   Not a choice Gilbert wants to risk.  Losing that large part of their fan base would send the team into an even worse downward spiral.  People would start pointing fingers, and inevitably the finger pointing would turn towards Gilbert for first not surrounding Lebron with enough legitimate talent, and then for not doing enough to re-sign him.  Thus, Gilbert decided to focus on pathos and capitalize on the situation.

Reading the letter, it sounds impromptu.  It sounds like someone who is thinking irrationally and speaking out of anger.  It sounds like it is coming from a run of the mill fan, because the views expressed in that letter, whether true or not, are some of the very common views expressed by fans.  They felt this was Lebron being narcissistic and self-promotional, they felt they were betrayed, and they felt completely taken advantage of.  Gilbert’s letter indirectly tells them their feelings are alright to possess.  It is okay to feel hurt, because Lebron is a bad person with bad motives and we are better off without him.

Many non-Cleveland fans don’t understand the complaining about Lebron leaving or the claims of betrayal.  They see it as no significant difference from what every other free agent goes through.  Sure, you can say this is completely different because the way it was handled by Lebron, but in the end, it really isn’t that significant.   Gilbert, though, isn’t going to take the chance of allowing fans to reach that conclusion.  He’s not going to let people take a step back and look at the whole picture, removing the immediate emotions and potentially siding with Lebron.  Instead, his letter successfully unites the fan base towards his line of thinking.  Yes, maybe Lebron’s lack of foresight with ESPN’s programming of “The Decision” is being exploited, but Gilbert is doing what he feels his best for his team.  In the stages of grief, anger is quickly followed by bargaining.  And at the time of the letter’s release, nearly everyone was still in that anger stage.  Gilbert knew he could not afford to let the fans get to the bargaining stage on their own; he needed to push them in the right direction.

He mentions how last night’s events are best for the greater good of Cleveland, as Lebron is ridding the city of its curse.  He promises the fans a championship before Lebron wins one.  Simply, he promises everyone a new and brighter tomorrow. I am not quick to use this word, but these promises are potential genius.   A downtown area looks to be financially destroyed.   A team is in its darkest hours since pre-Lebron.  And whether or not people believe in this curse, is there absolutely no reasoning behind whimsically claiming Lebron has taken it with him?  But none of this matters.  Individually, each claim sounds almost silly, but together they paint a picture of a front office willing to do whatever it takes to win.  And that’s the bargaining tool the fans can use; they can use the hope of a brighter future to avoid the following stage of depression.

Effectively, Gilbert has used a letter people thought was originally written by hackers to the NBA website, to potentially save the future of his team and the city of Cleveland.  Undoubtedly, this was an amazing piece of PR by Gilbert and his team, and I applaud them on this letter.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.

5 replies on “A Deeper Look at Dan Gilbert’s Letter”

Honestly, did he think LeBron was not going to leave Cleveland? The fans were very, very, very harsh on him during the playoffs and after. Even the media was harsh on LeBron. People were expecting him to win the Championship for Cleveland, but there is no I in TEAM. Let’s face it, LeBron James tried. He tried to be loyal to his fans and to the city of Cleveland.

Time is of the essence for him. He’s not a selfish player, he appears to be a good person, mature, and intelligent. He knows the Cavailier’s mangement and how they operate.

Personally, even though the letter may have been a great PR move for the Cavailiers organization to retain fan support, I’m disappointed. The owner of the team totally broke protocol. That’s not professional at all. He makes comments about LeBron that are disparaging (calling him a coward and disloyal).

Many organizations have the opportunity trade players like LeBron James because of the equity they accrue based on the players marketability, talent, and skill. Dan Gilbert was not given the opportunity to trade LeBron and/or control LeBron’s destiny due to free agency. He just lost one of the best basketball players in the history of the NBA. He knows he’s going to feel it next season. I think that is what he’s mad about. The loss of equity, profits, and revenue.

It might have been a good PR move, but it gets me that Gilbert can talk about loyalty when he just fired Mike Brown who had the best record in the NBA the last two years and won a coach of the year. It just seems a little hypocritical in that light.

Understand where you’re coming from but you don’t hire a coach to win Coach of the Year or simply do well in the regular season, you hire a coach to win championships.

When it came down to the wire, Brown just did not have the tools to lead the Cavs to playoff victories over Orlando or Boston. Anyone who saw those series, the Boston one more so than Orlando, can tell you that many of Brown’s choices were simply amateur.

On the other hand, you also have to keep in mind how much control Lebron has had on this team over the years. From what I’ve read, the general consensus is nearly every significant GM decision was done with Lebron’s approval…

I agree with you Justin. It was a great PR move. More importantly it stood up for what is right overall. Although some of the things said may have been disparaging and unprofessional, they came from the heart and were 99% fact. I personally am simply digusted by the whole free agent process, culminating with “The Decision” which I still to this day dont believe actually happened. I reallllllllllly hope Gilbert was right about winning a championship before Lebron, although I somehow doubt it:p.

I pity LeBron. He can’t win.

If he would have chosen New York they would have said he followed the glitz, the glamour, and the bright lights of the Big Apple. He’d make millions from endorsements. He’d become the most well known athlete-entertainer, in the world. Then they would have said he doesn’t care about winning. He chased money. He’s not a team player. The Knicks have Amar’e and his bum knee. And Gallinari. And Randolph. And a whole lot of cap space. And not much more. LeBron, you’re selfish.

If he would have chosen Chicago, poor LeBron would have never lived up to his idol’s legacy. MJ won the title six times. MJ won it on HIS OWN team. MJ played in Chicago during his whole, well almost his whole, career. LeBron would have had to leave his OWN team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, to win elsewhere. Lebron, you aren’t THE MAN. You’re the final puzzle piece to Michael Jordan’s shadow.

If he would have stayed in Cleveland LeBron would have fulfilled Akron prophecy and followed the trend of every other egotistical athlete known on this side of the 21st century. LeBron stayed for the money. He stayed because it’s HIS team. If they won, it was built around KING JAMES himself. He wanted to be like MJ. He wanted to be like Kobe. He’s selfish and conceited; all that matters is that he’s the KING of Cleveland and if and when they did win, it was because of him. You were the WITNESS.

Instead, LeBron clicked his sparkly red heels three times and woke up in South Beach. There’s no place like home. Home is now Miami, where LeBron, Wade, and Bosh can team up with Mario Chalmers, De’Sean Butler, Jarvis Varnado, Dexter Pittman and a plethora of minimum salaried, washed-up, desperate veterans to attempt to win it all.

LeBron left millions on the table, left his team for Dwayne Wade’s team, to win a championship- something he couldn’t do in Cleveland. Besides creating a whirlwind of chaos and animosity leading up to “The Decision,” LeBron has demonstrated an attribute superstar athletes rarely display- UNSELFISHNESS. He doesn’t want the money. He doesn’t want to be “The Man”. He wants to win.

Unfortunately, winning isn’t as easy as signing two superstars and an overrated power forward. Winning requires a strong nucleus, a team of role players, a bit of salary-cap intelligence, and an owner willing to foot the bill on a dollar-for-dollar luxury tax.

Too bad for LeBron. Come June 2011 LeBron will be left watching the NBA Finals from the confines of a Miami cabana, sulking with the likes of Wade and Bosh, thinking twice about “The Decision.”

Poor LeBron. He still can’t win.

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