The Real Reason Dan Gilbert Hates LeBron

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Dan Gilbert doesn’t take bad news well. When the majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers learned that star player LeBron James would be leaving the team and going to the Miami Heat, Gilbert responded with an aggrssive, oddly personal tirade on the Cavaliers’ website.

He wrote, “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.  But the good news is that this heartless and callous action can only serve as the antidote to the so-called ‘curse’ on Cleveland, Ohio.  The self-declared former ‘King’ will be taking the ‘curse’ with him down south. And until he does ‘right’ by Cleveland and Ohio, James (and the town where he plays) will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma.”

I guess hell hath no fury like a basketball team owner scorned.

Let’s keep it real here. The switch should not have come as a surprise to Gilbert. For years, people have been suggesting that James would leave the Cavs in 2010. At a 2008 press conference, Gilbert also reacted pretty strongly to the speculation that James would eventually take off.  He told reporters, “It’s kind of an insult to the city of Cleveland in my opinion — an insult to the Midwest.”

Actually, Dan, it’s just business.  And frankly, we suspect that it’s the business implications of James’ departure that might be getting you all hot under the collar, rather than any perceived insult or sense of betrayal.

As a number of news organizations have reported, the value of the Cavaliers’ franchise will be significantly hurt by James’ departure. Bob Whitsitt, former Portland Trail Blazers president, told Bloomberg News, “If I asked today what could you sell the Cavaliers for, obviously the first question is, 'Is LeBron on the team or not?... If he`s not on the team, you`re probably going to be looking at something that starts with a 2, maybe $250 million. If he`s on the team, you`re looking at something that starts with a 5.”

Forbes  noted that with James on the team, the Cavs enjoyed an extra $19.4 million in average annual ticket sales, compared to the years before he was on the team.

And it’s not just the Cavs that will take a hit. The city of Cleveland stands to suffer too. ChicagoBreakingSports.com put it this way: “Before LeBron James, there were thousands of empty seats for most Cleveland Cavaliers games and downtown was silent after dark. With him, every game is a sellout and nearby bars and restaurants bustle.”  (I wonder how many Cavs fans will still be willing to shell out $2,376.00 for a season ticket in the nosebleed section, now that Lebron has left the house.)

Gilbert’s public freak-out isn’t terribly surprising when you consider these numbers, along with the fact that without James on the roster, the Cavs could be worth less than the $375 million Gilbert paid for the team in 2005. He’s been a very successful businessman in the past, having founded Rock Financial (which he took public and eventually sold to Intuit (Stock Quote: INTU) for about $370 million), Quicken Loans, 1-800-Contacts and StyleCaster. He understands the stakes here, but he also should understand that loyalty is only one of the factors James had to consider. He had to factor in money and, more importantly, where he felt he could be most successful. He made a judgement that Miami was the place for him.

The decision puts Gilbert and the Cavs in a tough spot, to be sure, but throwing a hissy fit doesn’t help anyone. It’s not going to boost morale and it’s not going to help the team win, Dan, despite your over-reaching assurances to your organization and the city of Cleveland.

It’s time for a litte acceptance.

He’s just not that into you, dude.

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