Brian Windhorst wrote a long article about what kind of business Dan Gilbert has been able to build in Ohio as a result of owning the Cavaliers. Obviously a big part of his initial ownership was having LeBron James on his roster. Past that, it is hard to figure out what the real intent of Windhorst’s long article was. Was Windhorst trying to say that Gilbert wouldn’t be successful as a businessman in Ohio without LeBron James?
No matter what James and the Miami Heat accomplish in the future — even if they end up making Gilbert eat his infamous words guaranteeing a Cavs title before there’s a single parade held for the Heat — Gilbert’s business victory has already been assured.
James has left the Cavaliers, but his seven seasons with the team played a valuable role in likely making sure Gilbert will become a permanent fixture on the Forbes 400 list — where he currently ranks 293rd at $1.5 billion, higher than at any time when James was an employee.
An employee. That’s what Windhorst calls LeBron James. I am not sure if Windhorst did it intentionally or subconsciously, but referring to LeBron James as an employee of Dan Gilbert really set off alarms in my brain. Employee is rather reductionist terminology for a guy with gaudy contracts on the “side” with McDonald’s, State Farm Insurance, Sprite, and Nike. LeBron James made just under $16 million his last year in Cleveland. That same year, Forbes estimated that LeBron James made $27.2 million away from the Cleveland Cavaliers and Dan Gilbert. Maybe I am making too big a deal about Windhorst’s choice of that one word, but it rubbed me – admittedly sensitive – the wrong way.
To be fair, at points in the article, Windhorst paints the pre-decision relationship between Gilbert and James as one of mutual benefit. Gilbert’s benefits are obvious and have been well-documented. LeBron’s benefits included seeking Gilbert’s advice about business and investing. Despite this line of thinking, Windhorst gives LeBron James a lot of credit for Dan Gilbert’s successes, it seems, including his victory in the casino gambling vote in the state of Ohio.
Windhorst doesn’t completely connect the dots from LeBron James to the Ohio casino, but even in omitting it he’s already kind of led everyone there anyway by weaving the stories in and out. I do agree that the two are inseparable as entities because they both relied on each other so heavily for the beginning of Gilbert’s foray into Ohio. But, I wanted to do some research just to see if I could get to the heart of the election victory that brought Gilbert into the casino business. How much of it could have to do with Gilbert’s profile by way of owning a team featuring LeBron James? To say it had no effect is wrong, but how much did it really help?
The day after the election, Cleveland.com characterized the fifth vote that Ohioans cast on the gambling topic.
Issue 3 had a different attraction from the previously defeated gambling plans, with unlikely foes taking a liking to gambling and yielding a sense that maybe this time, voters would be ready for blackjack and roulette.The Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, longtime opponents of casinos, reversed course and not only endorsed Issue 3 but became one of the casino proposal’s most ardent and unapologetic supporters.The state’s most powerful blue-collar labor unions also got behind the plan. And even Gov. Ted Strickland, who opposed Issue 3, might have inadvertently pushed the door open a bit more with his own gambling flirtation — his recent attempt to add slot machines to Ohio’s seven horse racing tracks.The final piece of the winning formula was capitalizing on the popularity of Ohio’s most-liked professional team owner, Gilbert, who with Penn National Gaming of Pennsylvania were the financial backers of Issue 3.
Even the Plain Dealer indicates that Gilbert’s profile as a pro team owner had something to do with it, but there were plenty of other factors, not the least of which was Ohioans slowly getting used to the idea over the course of five unsuccessful votes and an attempted end-around by then-Governor Strickland.
So, again, what exactly is Brian Windhorst trying to say?
LeBron James and Dan Gilbert are inextricable in many ways. Dan Gilbert was certainly given more incentive to buy the Cavs because LeBron James was on the team. Dan Gilbert was able to capitalize on the success of the Cavaliers by investing in additional businesses partly because of LeBron James. No doubt. But let’s not pretend like Gilbert was investing NBA profits in FatHeads and secondary market ticketing companies or even his casino gambling ventures. Windhorst himself admits that Gilbert ran the Cavs in the red most of the time.
If anything, Windhorst’s article finally cements the storyline that everyone has gotten wrong about Dan Gilbert. The NBA came out and cried poor because teams were losing money, but Dan Gilbert has never claimed that was his reason for wanting changes.
Dan Gilbert has set up his entire business not inside the Cavaliers or their one-time superstar LeBron James, but with the Cavaliers being a major contributing piece. The “threads” that Gilbert set up might have been aided by LeBron James, but they are sure to outlive his career span.
I am sure Gilbert would like to make money on the Cavaliers, but it will be far more important for the team to be competitive to retain that foot traffic into the arena so he can make casino money. He also needs the team to be competitive so his Quicken Loans insignia on the floor appears on national TV multiple times per year. He needs the entire league to be more successful selling tickets so he cements his investment in his ticketing company.
How much of all this should he thank LeBron James for? I’m not sure. We’ll have to ask Dan Gilbert sometime because even in leading us down that path, Brian Windhorst never actually said. Anyone know what he was trying to say?