“Animals are reliable, many full of love, true in their affections, predictable in their actions, grateful and loyal. Difficult standards for people to live up to.”
–Alfred A. Montapert
Loyalty in sports is one of the blurriest fine lines in existence. The fragile relationships between fans, athletes, cities, franchises, and ownership all too often seem to hang by a fragile and delicate thread, just waiting for the other shoe to drop and the cord to be severed. But sometimes, in rare occasions, the bond can remain strong and a long term mutually beneficial relationship can sustain. As fans, we tend to think the players are the ones who break loyalty, but what happens when fans break their loyalty to the city, the team, and their fellow fans? And even more dangerous, what happens when former members of the front office break their loyalty to anyone and everyone?
These questions came to my mind as I read an alarming article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer this morning. In the article, Jodie Valade talks about a couple different websites that have popped up recently not only claiming their mission is to bring LeBron James to New York City, but one of the sites in particular is asking for donations to give to LeBron to help entice him. Suggested donations include things like luxury suite tickets to Yankee Stadium, expensive luxury cars, and courtside seats at the Garden for LeBron’s mom (I’m not sure why this one is neccessary….surely the Knicks would give LeBron’s mom any seat she wanted in the house…even Spike Lee’s, if she felt so inclined). As Jodie writes,
“Traitorous former Clevelanders appear to be behind two Web sites recently launched with the aim of enticing Cavaliers star LeBron James to play for the New York Knicks when James is a free agent in 2010.
The first, nycforlebron.com, appears to be founded by a former Cavaliers employee, though he denied involvement when reached by phone in New York.
The second, nycforlebron.net, is a blatant spin-off of the .com site. And the founders, which include a Beachwood native, hope for the same result as the original: drawing attention to how much the citizens of New York would embrace the Cavaliers’ all-time leading scorer if he, like numerous Cleveland athletes before him, bolted for greener pastures.
NBA teams are limited by the salary cap on how much money they can offer James in a contract — with the Cavaliers holding an advantage to pay the most because he will have played for the team for seven seasons by 2010. Additional nonmonetary incentives are not allowed.
NBA spokesman Tim Frank said the league office would investigate any fan who followed through on plans to pay off a player to play for a particular team.
“We obviously would have to look at this type of fan very carefully,” Frank said. “We’re not prepared to say at this point whether we think it implicates any [collective bargaining agreement] rules. We would have to know more facts.”
Perhaps more troubling for nycforlebron.com is that Earl Patton, the Cavaliers director of basketball administration from 2001 to ’06, appears to be a part of the group that founded the site. He denied involvement when reached by phone last week.
“I have nothing to do with that,” said Patton, who now works in sports marketing at Sony.
However, his biography for a sports marketing conference last year says he is a partner in the parent company of everyteam.com . . . which also happens to “power” nycforlebron.com, with its logo prominently plastered along the bottom of the site. A story in the New York Post last month said the founders of everyteam.com launched the site, but a reporter spoke with someone named “William Patton.”
A Bank of America spokeswoman said the donation account listed on nycforlebron.com is registered to Sucker Punch Ventures. An Earl Patton profile on the networking site linkedin.com lists Patton as managing director of Sucker Punch Ventures.”
It is truly astounding to think that both of these sites have connections to Cleveland. A simple search of the contact information for the nycforlebron.net domain reveals Todd Lefkowitz as the contact. A google search then revealed that, sure enough, Todd was a graduate of Beachwood High School. How could something like this happen? I emailed Todd and asked him if he wanted to give his side of the story, and Todd was good enough to respond. His email response, in full, is as follows,
“I appreciate you giving me the chance to speak. First and foremost, let me just say that I’m a huge Browns and Indians fan. I haven’t stopped supporting Cleveland sports teams and, I in fact, hold them very beloved. I always will have a piece of this city in my heart.
In regards to the website, I have four partners (two which are from the east coast). When they came at me with the idea, I was hesitant to say the least. However, the more I began to think about it, the least (sic) reserved I became. Let me explain.
I am a LEBRON JAMES fan. I respect his game. With all that love, it is amazing to me how Cavaliers management has failed to place a team around such a prominent figure. The draft has over the years has been pitiful. Furthermore, when the find a hidden gem in the rough (i.e. Boozer, Kapono) they find a way to somehow mishandle the situation. Who would you rather have Boozer/Gooden,Varejo or WallyWorld or Kapono. In my opinion the pieces have been on the team at one time or another, but the Cleveland Cavaliers always find a way to botch the situation. As a result, LBJ has to carry the team on his back and lead the league in minutes. The team is wearing him out and even Terry Pluto would agree with me on this. I’m not even going to discuss our free agent signings (i.e. Hughes,Marshall) or the trade made in which the most impressive player is JOE SMITH.
I say New York Knicks, because the Lakers has Kobe and Pau and they are the best in the West. I would never wish anyone upon the Clippers (there management might be worse then the Cavs). In NYC, Donnie Walsh is now running the show. He has a proven record and, would most likely, be able to find the right combination. I respect LBJ and his skills as a PLAYER and that is what most concerns me. I want to see him win multiple champions. Walsh will figure a way to rid himself of the bad contracts and start all over. It’s a good time to move.
At the end of the day, LBJ as a Cavalier is a great thing. Unfortunately, managment’s (sic) inability to players around him will probably foreshadow a free agent move.
I apologize if you’re offended. I’m just a realist.
Please feel free to post this or respond…
On some levels, it would be hard for any of us to argue with Todd. In fact, this site has pointed out the ineptitude of the Cavaliers front office time and time again. So in that respect, we can all understand Todd’s frustration with the front office. But how many of us would actually take the step of making a website with the intent of pushing this city’s biggest star to New York??? I cannot understand how anyone who grew up in Ohio and has experienced the mentality of this state and the city of Cleveland, in particular, could so callously turn their back on this city and active work on ridding the city of the best thing it has to offer. And that may be sad commentary on the city, if a professional athlete is the best it has to offer, but that’s the way it is. What will happen to Cleveland if LeBron leaves? Sure, life will go on, but in all reality, the city will probably never be quite the same. The Cavaliers, for sure, will crumble under the weight of having lost it’s icon and legend. And to be so Cavalier (no pun intended) with the vitality of the city one grew up in and proclaims to still have in his heart is a tough one to understand, for sure. We all know there’s a chance LeBron may leave. Accepting it is one thing….actively trying to help push him out the door is a totally different thing, though.
But even more alarming, is the possible involvement of a former Cavaliers employee in the original .com site. As quoted above, the Plain Dealer has pinpointed one of the key figures as Earl Patton, a former Cavaliers employee. If you click on the image to the left, you can view Patton’s bio as printed in the 2004 Cavaliers media guide. It is worth noting that Patton is listed as being a Brooklyn native. In October 2005, Patton was fired from the Cavaliers. What’s interesting, though, is that this is not the last time Patton was mentioned in a Cleveland newspaper. In the March 26, 2006 edition of the Plain Dealer, an article was written about shady business deals involving the entertainment district restaurants “Phil The Fire Downtown” and “The Waterhouse”. As it turns out, Patton was mentioned in connection with Atlanta hedge fund manager Kirk Wright, a man who at the time had a warrant out as the SEC was looking into him for claims of fraud. According to the article by Alison Grant,
“The 36-year-old Harvard-educated money manager had emerged on the Cleveland business scene in 2003 as the charismatic financier of Phil the Fire Down town. He teamed up on the Gateway restaurant with Phil Davis, who had popularized a chicken-and-waffles combo – the first Phil the Fire – two years earlier at a location on Shaker Square.
Davis said he was introduced to Wright by Earl Patton, the Cavs’ director of player development. Patton was a regular customer at Phil the Fire on Shaker Square, sometimes arriving with Cavs players or a coach in tow. Davis loved it.
Excitement over the team in 2003 was intense because the Cavs had landed 18-year-old phenom LeBron James. Lots of people wanted a piece of the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, who had just signed a $90 million sneaker endorsement deal.
Patton visited Phil the Fire with James’ mother not long after the Cavs drafted LeBron on June 26. They were big on the sweet-and-salty cuisine that Davis boasted was the best soul food in town.
The two men got talking about the restaurant business. Davis said he was looking to branch into downtown Cleveland. He had a place in mind.
“You need to talk to my buddy, Kirk Wright,” Davis recalled Patton saying. “He said, ‘One of my boys is looking to do the same thing. He wants to build part of his business in Cleveland.’ “
Patton, who left the Cavs at the end of the 2004-2005 season, declined comment. Davis said Patton told him he had grown up with Wright in New York City.”
It is somewhat scary to think that Patton, a possibly disgruntled former employee with connections to New York City and LeBron James’ family, could be behind a website offering to make additional payments in excess of his NBA contract to LeBron to get him to go to New York in 2010. This is of questionable ethical behavior no matter how you look at it. It’s like one giant circle of conflicts of interest and severed loyalties. While there’s nothing I’ve seen that would indicate Earl Patton of any wrong doing in connection with his old NYC buddy Kirk Wright, it should certainly raise an eyebrow or two when you realize that a man with such an intimate knowledge of the Cavaliers’ front office could be pulling the strings behind the scenes in an effort to get LeBron to leave Cleveland.
This whole business of websites sprouting up trying to get LeBron to leave Cleveland started as nothing more than a couple annoying nuisances that seemed to be of little real consequence. In the light of the connections behind these websites, though, perhaps this is more dangerous than we ever thought, particularly in the case of the involvement of Earl Patton. Assuming Patton has no connections with the Knicks, I don’t see this as a case of tampering on an NBA level, but I do hope that the NBA is serious about looking into these cases and making sure nothing shady is going on. Cleveland will have a hard enough time keeping LeBron in Cleveland as it is, the last thing the city needs is a couple traitorous hands pushing heavily on LeBron’s back.