In the fallout of LeBron Jamesâ€™ decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat and a chance to win the championship that will cement his legacy (as tarnished as some may think said legacy will be by Bronâ€™s decision to leave his hometown) there came jeers and groans and a feeling of utter despair blanketed Akron and the entire state of Ohio. The gloom seemed to envelope most of the Midwest as nearby Chicago became aware that their hopes of getting King James to play under the shadow of his idol, Michael Jordanâ€™s, statue outside the United Center had been fatally dashed. Were it possible to track the spread of sorrow like weather, forecasts would have registered similar sentiments hovering over New York, New Jersey and as far west as Los Angeles-although realistic Clipper fans, familiar with â€˜bad news cloudsâ€™, Â had long since seen the onset of disappointment and dressed accordingly.
However, the origin of this storm of sadness was not in Connecticut, where LeBron sat down with ESPNâ€™s Sam Gray to announce what will live in infamy as â€˜The Decisionâ€™. The storm originated from a lone individual in Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who threw a tempest of a tantrum shortly after learning his franchise had lost its identity to the sunny shores of South Beach.
â€œThis shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown â€œchosen oneâ€ sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And â€œwhoâ€ we would want them to grow-up to becomeâ€ Gilbert said. The owner also described his former superstar as â€œnarcissisticâ€ and â€œcowardlyâ€ before ultimately levying a curse on LeBronâ€™s upcoming Miami Heat campaign.
The comments made by Gilbert evoked a reaction from civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, who likened Gilbertâ€™s feelings of betrayal to that of a â€œslave masterâ€. While the good reverend may be reaching just a little, Gilbert did come off as a petulant, jilted child. While the intricacies of the slave trade and an NBA trade are polar opposites, Gilbert does embody a hypocritical mentality amongst owners who look to lambaste players who scorn them. Dallas Maverickâ€™s owner Mark Cuban backed Gilbertâ€™s comments stating, â€œI wouldâ€™ve been mad tooâ€, and then went on to dismiss any notion that Gilbert had perhaps gone too far with his comments.
LeBron may have turned the announcement regarding his future into a long drawn out process, but as a free agent he was well within his rights to do so. In the seven years James was a Cavalier he led the team to the NBA Finals, won two MVP awards and helped the Cavs finish with the leagueâ€™s best record two years straight. In the process, James also put Cleveland on the map, taking every available opportunity to â€œbig upâ€ his hometown, played a major role in the community â€“ in fact the profits from his televised announcement went to aid several Boyâ€™s & Girlâ€™s Clubs in the cities bidding for his servicesâ€¦including Cleveland â€“ and made Dan Gilbert richer, more powerful and famous. With that said, backlash for LeBron the player resulting from The Decision is to be expected, but the hatred, animosity and utter contempt Gilbert showed for LeBron the person is unwarranted. Gilbert is a major player in a sport where owners sit cozy in their offices (when they actually show up to work) or relax leisurely in their multi-million dollar homes with no fear of being supplanted, whereas players with something so simple as a phone call can be forced to uproot their families, say goodbye to friends and relatives and relocate to another city clear across the nation. While players donâ€™t always appreciate being traded, many times we hear them express the same sentiment that basketball is a business. You would think a business-minded owner would have gotten this memo. Instead Gilbert expressed displeasure at not being informed prior to the ESPN telecast as to where LeBron was headed. However, something tells me Gilbert is feeling a tiny fraction of the resentment felt by players who found out they had been waived or traded via television, radio, a buddy who heard the news or any outlet other than a respectful phone call from the organization.
This disconnection sets the stage for upcoming collective bargaining talks between the NBA Players Association and owners, who have complained audibly about the leagueâ€™s current free agency policy and inflated contracts. If the James-Gilbert relationship is any indicator, the NBA may be looking at another lockout similar to the one seen in the 1999 season that reduced the regular season from 82 to 50 games.
Gilbert has since been fined $100,000 by NBA Commissioner, David Stern who called the statements made by Gilbert â€œa little bit extremeâ€ but not without also expressing displeasure with LeBronâ€™s decision on how he would announce hisâ€¦wellâ€¦decision. Stern referred to the media spectacle surrounding the announcement â€œill-advisedâ€.
As the whirlwind of emotion and angst passes and sides are chosen, what is most troubling is that rather than Gilbert being chastised across the board for his censure of James, he found support and understanding from several branches of the NBA executive tree. Even Cavs fans have volunteered to raise money to pay Gilbertâ€™s fine, possibly oblivious to the fact that $100,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to the $100 million James made Gilbert in his tenure with the Cavs. At a time where the future of the NBA is uncertain, an outburst like this could have been used to rally players and owners alike under a banner of mutual understanding and respect for one another and the business that connects them all. Instead it has only further drawn a line in the sand and left all involved -fans included- cowering and bracing for the next storm.