July 25, 2014

How Much Does Dan Gilbert Owe LeBron James?

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?

  • mgbode

    did LeBron James help Gilbert by propelling the Cavaliers to a ‘national team’ for the first time in their history and likely opening far more doors than would have been available to Gilbert in the business world without him? of course.

    did Gilbert also get hurt (by hundreds of millions of dollars) by LeBron leaving the Cavaliers both in franchise value and other ventures (coupled by the fact that Gilbert bought a LeBron James Cavalier’s team and now owns a non-LeBron James Cavaliers team, so his ROI on that investment took a huge hit)? of course.

    so, can we call it even and move on?

  • jimkanicki

    >>>Anyone know what he was trying to say?>>>>

    “Please put me on a podcast and let me write for Grantland, Mr. Simmons!”

  • Rob

    @ #1 – exactly. no one mentions the loss in asset value of the franchise, post-decision, nor the reduced income stream that is currently coming into the operation.

  • Bobby

    The guy who has his nose so far up LeD-bag’s rectum that he doesn’t know where his sinus cavity ends and object of his affection’s duodenum begins has something to say?

    sniff…..

    pardon me while I clean the garage.

  • Joe

    Yeah, I don’t get where Brian was going with the article either….Didn’t ‘ol Scoop get his current gig by following LBJ?

  • Ben

    I read it twice. He still has not told us what happened in the ECF.

    Translation: What Jim said above me.

  • Tsunami

    This article made me sad because I remember how fond I was of Windhorst’s work. His non-Cavalier, non-NE Ohio stuff is so void of any insight or passion. He’s only going to get rare chances to pen pieces like this anymore. It’s a shame.

  • JM

    Must be tough to be Windhorst these days. He can’t throw any softball questions at the Miami players since there is no season yet.

  • Tsunami

    @Ben – as frustrating as that fact is (and believe me I’ve been loudly asking where he was on that for months) he might simply not know. For a guy as calculated and conservative as he was in making claims/predictions – he outright said ‘LeBron James isn’t going anywhere’ in one of his podcasts near the end of 2010. And when things unraveled, he seemed as lost for words as the rest of us. The lack of a “story” is maddening, but maybe there wasn’t one. I mean, Gilbert lost millions overnight thinking LeBron was going to stay, and NOW it seems so obvious that he had this thing going on with Riley and Wade for 2 years. It’s just really hard to believe that every time LeBron gets scared and starts jump passing to 2nd round draft picks that it’s because his Mom is having an affair with Delonte West or Rashard Lewis. I wish there were more unhinged sports journalists though that didn’t care about “the fan/media balance” or “access” or any of that. I know that sounds bad, but why do we need “journalists” to tell us things about professional athletes that we already know? We watch the games, we have access to the stats. What we really want is insight. Everyone loves a juicy behind the scenes story. In this case, one might not exist.

  • Ben

    @Tsunami Except for the part where he said he knew what happened and can’t talk about it or he would not be able to work in the league.

  • Ben

    The third, and by far the most compelling nugget from Windy’s interview, was his hint that he knows what really went down during the playoffs last season. Windhorst told hosts Harry Petsanis and Chuck Booms: “There are some details that I could reveal about what was going on in the playoffs, but because of confidences and I still have to cover the league, I can’t. It has nothing to do with what anybody else thinks, and it’s something that’s never been discussed before.”

  • mgbode

    @Ben – just like BW didn’t reveal the Pat Riley situation until after the decision. BW lost a ton of credibility when he revealed that one. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if he hints at knowing things because it’s better for LeBron to have a mysterious reason for his playoff failures than it is to just accept them at face value. playoff failures.

  • Harv 21

    he hurt his elbow. why don’t you guys believe him? Didn’t you see the left-handed free throw? Probably why he left, could never get the benefit of the doubt around here.

  • Tron

    People seem to forget that Windhorst is first and foremost a sports journalist. This means he’s pretty much in the same category as his fellow ESPN buffoons who will do anything the “hint” at a story, make up some lies to fabricate BS and trumpet themselves as having “inside info”. It’s become a farce how little integrity there is in reporting sports. The only thing that matters is making as much noise as you can and making people think you know more than you actually do. Windy’s knocked that one out of the park. He has to act like he’s got the inside track on all things LeBum, or why would ESPN bother to hire him?

  • CLE

    gilbert owes lebron a kick to the balls then a knee to the face.

  • Brad Allen

    Its pretty simple: no James, no casinos. The “threads” that Windy was referring to are the residual/fringe benefits of being an NBA owner, its the value of having a franchise that Forbes cannot quantify. Its why NBA owners, besides lying about their losses, are being disingenuous in this labor dispute because the true value of owning an NBA team far supercedes any BRI percentage that the players can obtain. Owners get to write off depreciation, benefit from the cache of beng an owner and eventually sell the team for an enormous profit. The players career is an average of 2 years w/ no stake in the company whatsoever. Lebron will never see a cent of the casino earnings that he is DIRECTLY responsible for. Etc, etc.

  • Brad Allen

    And of course I should have expected the moronic responses about lebron’s mom and other random bitter comments from cleveland sports fans.

  • Bobby

    Hey look guys, maverick carter, AKA brad allen, showed up to tell us how great L-Dbag is, was, and always will be.

    How L-Dbag is DIRECTLY responsible for the Casino’s (that isn’t open) earnings…..magic trick that.

  • JM

    Cool story bro

  • christopher

    Saying LeBron James is “DIRECTLY” responsible for the casinos being built in Cleveland is like saying Santa Claus is “DIRECTLY” responsible for the presents under my tree.

    Peddle your word-a-day dictionary elsewhere Brad Allen.

  • saggy

    Brad Allen.

    Kinda rhymes with: I’m not stepping in what you’re smellin’

  • Grumpy31700

    He has harped on this issue on the radio and twitter, and he is right to some extent buying a sports team can bring notoriety to the owner. But to count this as hidden income is crazy, everyone knows that notoriety can generate additional income but it can also hurt. For every Gilbert there is a Stepien or two. I personally feel the Casino issue would have passed in Ohio without the support of Dan Gilbert.

    The real issue that this article seems to lead to is that owners should accept the loosing money in a business in order to be famous. These guys are billionaires and why should they invest money in basketball to lose money they can become famous in many other ways.

    Basketball should be a close to break even sport for almost every team to be a successful sport, you cannot tax the rich to death to pay for the poor but you need balance the rich teams pay some and the rest has to come from a balanced salary from employees.

  • nick

    Windhorst is a tool. He was an RA at Mount Union when I lived in the dorm and that fat ass ( he was much skinnier back then ) told us we had to dump out a full case of busch light or we would get reported to the dean of students.

  • 5KMD

    “Owners get to write off depreciation, benefit from the cache of beng an owner and eventually sell the team for an enormous profit. The players career is an average of 2 years w/ no stake in the company whatsoever.”

    yeah, and everyone knows it going in. If you don’t like it as a player then quit playing and go buy your own team.

    What’s that? You don’t have the captial to RISK in that venture? Well, I guess you don’t get the benefits either.

  • Yea I said it

    @ #4: No Bobby, let’s rephrase your statement:

    The guy (Craig Lyndall)who has his nose so far up (Dan Gilbert’s) rectum that he doesn’t know where his sinus cavity ends and object of his affection’s duodenum begins has something to say?

    Craig Lyndall and the Cavs fans will cease to stop talking about Lebron.

  • Bobby

    holy super clever comeback there fella.

    you should get a job writing stuff for a living.

    I cant believe Windy’s moms cares so much.

  • Shamrock

    How much does Brian Windhorst owe LeBron James?

  • Bobby

    “How much does Brian Windhorst owe LeBron James?”

    Correct answer:

    His soul

  • David

    Windhorst is a sellout who is riding LeBron’s coat tails. Why doesn’t he turn this article around on himself?
    “I was a no name journalist from Cleveland who was fortunate enough to cover LeBron James. Whe he decided to make a fool of himself on national TV, ESPN asked me to follow this dream team in Florida as they won not 1, not 2, not 3…. Now I sit behind my desk and throw darts at the owner who offered to pay LeBron MORE MONEY to stay in Cleveland forever and OWN THIS CITY. Now I have to go sort through Chris Bosh’s trash and look for a new article.”

  • AdiDazzler

    What he is saying is that his association with Lebron James has helped him grow his business into other ventures which have now made him richer than he has ever been. He’s intimating that he is holding up the league when he has deeper pockets than he has ever had. And he’s doing it without being blatant about the fact that he made millions on his sub prime mortgage company which has screwed the economy.

    If he has grown to being worth $1.5B since Lebron came on board and his success with the Cavs has enabled to develop other enterprises because of that association, then he shouldn’t be crying if he is losing a few bucks since Lebron left a few years ago. Owning this team, is like owning an expensive stock that will have losses but that should profit if held long enough.

    And it’s on him that while the team prospered he overspent on his roster and ran the team into the red. And never gave Lebron a team where they could shoulder the burden a long with Lebron. Everything was on LBJ.