Does Dan Gilbert Have a National Image Problem?

We all love Dan Gilbert in Cleveland.

He is the one owner in our town who has proven that he has not just the resources, but the willingness to do whatever it takes to make his team a winner. Randy Lerner has the same kind of dough that Gilbert does, but he is completely devoid of anything related to the Browns. He only gets involved when it is absolutely necessary. When that has happened, his track record of hires is reminiscent of his team’s play on the field – brutal. Osama bin Laden had been sighted more times than Randy over the last decade. He should have sold the Browns years ago, maybe then this constant culture of losing at “The Factory of Sadness” could have disappeared.

Larry and Paul Dolan possess the complete opposite traits of Randy. They have a solid structure in place, with Team President Mark Shapiro as the face of the franchise getting out in front of everything. Shappy is completely visible and around all the time, while Lerner’s alleged “face,” Mike Holmgren, only comes out when the moon is full. As well as the Indians organization may run, the ownership just doesn’t have the financials to hang with the big boys. If you put Randy Lerner’s bank account on the Dolan’s organizational skills, the Tribe would be in phenomenal shape.

SIDE NOTE – Holmgren has been ROBBING Lerner for the last two years. Like Bill Parcells when he was in Miami, you have to wonder how much of his heart is really in this job, thousands of miles away from his Seattle home. It seems to me as if “The Big Show” is cashing checks and isn’t long for this position. I put the over/under on the rest of the Holmgren era in Cleveland at a year and a half.  To quote the great Sam Malone: “That is just one guy’s opinion.”

But this isn’t about Randy Lerner or the Dolan Family, this is about the man that is viewed as head and shoulders the best owner in town, Dan Gilbert.

The Mortgage King came to town with tons of bluster, turned the moribund franchise completely around in terms of culture and in-arena atmosphere. He wanted Cavs games to become events, not just games. He succeeded right away – it certainly helped having a big ticket like LeBron James putting on a Cavaliers uniform. Nevertheless, Gilbert got in on the LBJ ground floor and watched the franchise grow into one of the best in the league. He made sure his players were taken care of in a second to none fashion. He built the Cavs a brand new practice facility, Cleveland Clinic Courts in Independence, which is viewed as one of the best in the league and a real feather in the Cavalier cap.

Things couldn’t have been more rosy for Gilbert. He showed a willingness to spend above the organizations means to win during the LeBron years, and took on contracts that 90% of the league wouldn’t just to win (Antawn Jamison & Ben Wallace to name a couple). But then, LeBron left, and things changed for everyone.

We all loved the infamous “comic sans” letter to Cavs fans that Gilbert fired off minutes after “The Decision.” I said at the time that while the Cavs were a distant third to me on the local sports scene, I felt as though it was my duty as a Clevelander to support Gilbert and the Wine and Gold more than I ever had in the past, because my owner stood up for his fans and organization in a way that nobody had ever seen before. But the more time that has passed, the more that letter looked foolish.

On a national level, Gilbert was viewed as a jilted lover. Thanks to LeBron’s complete arrogance – i.e. the way he left, the way he and his two running mates in Miami acted in that WWE-like press conference when he first put on the Heat uniform- Gilbert’s letter faded into the background while the hate for all things LeBron shot through the roof.

Fast forward a summer. The Cavs have become a rebuilding lottery team, LeBron has become this disliked figure who has a fourth quarter in big games problem, and Gilbert was the guy who was bringing a Casino to downtown Cleveland.

Then the lockout hit.

While the summer of discontent turned into what David Stern once called “the nuclear winter,” there became a dividing line in the NBA ownership group. On one side were the big market owners who wanted to get this deal done one way or another, and the small market owners who wanted the system completely blown up and were willing to miss an entire season to get what they wanted.

During these negotiations, lots of rumors were bandied about, but one of the loudest points during a dark time was that Gilbert was leading the way in trying to hold up a potential deal. While that has never been confirmed, it was still out there. The poster children for the small market paranoia were Gilbert and Phoenix owner Robert Sarver. Many pundits called Gilbert out as a hypocrite, saying if he still had LeBron on his team, he’d be on the side of the big market guys.

Eventually, the lockout ended and back to business the NBA went. The NBA had enough bad press, but they were about to get more, thanks to their own commissioner, David Stern.

Last week, Stern, acting as the final decision maker of the league-owner New Orleans Hornets, nixed a trade that would have sent all-star PG Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers in a three-team deal. The decision made by Stern was unanimously panned by every NBA expert. Many players took to Twitter and various other outlets to take their chance to rip Stern. Worst of all, Yahoo! Sports was able to retain a copy of an email that Dan Gilbert sent to Stern in regards to the trade, essentially telling him that he can’t allow this deal to happen with the tagline of “at what point did 25 of the 30 teams become the Washington Generals?”

While Gilbert is allowed to have an opinion and expressed so to Stern in a private email, it was leaked to the press. When the “comic sans” letter was out there, Clevelanders loved it and while many outside of our little bubble found it comical, may viewed him as a big baby who should take his ball and go home. Now, with the leaking of the email, Gilbert has become an even more of a national figure as a whiner, not only with the national media, but with many NBA fans as well.

ESPN’s Michael Wilbon have made references such as David Stern needing to “check with his deputy commissioner Dan Gilbert to see if the next Paul trade works for him first.” Bill Simmons has been on that same Wilbon page. While we all love him in Cleveland, Gilbert has a budding national image problem on his hands. I don’t know what he can do to repair the problem, nor do I think he cares if he does, but it is something that is out there.

Check with your friends outside of town who are NBA fans. As them what their feeling are about Gilbert these days. I did. And I didn’t like what I heard.

  • jimkanicki

    nba fans of teams not named miami, la, new york, chicago are fools.

    that’s all i can say.

  • mgbode

    here’s another one to pose:

    ask fans outside of Ohio who is the owner of the Indians? the Browns (if you are in England, you actually will have a bunch because of his Aston Villa ownership – I found this out recently)?

    fact is, people know that Gilbert. know he has been championing the smaller markets and decrying the larger ones. yes, he comes across as a whining little baby to many (and perhaps is to some degree).

    however, he is known. how is image goes will depend on if the CBA really fixed anything (uh oh). if smaller markets are able to keep more of their superstars, then the fact that he is the name remembered from this mess will mean he gets more credit than he is due (just like he is getting more blame now).

    let’s see how this plays out.

  • mgbode

    oh, and let’s remember that Mark Cuban was the crazy rich brat who had no business owning a NBA team for the first years of his ownership.

  • Boomhauertjs

    Screamin’ A Smith has been a Gilbert hater since he bought the team, so it doesn’t surprise me that the rest of the hacks at “The Worldwide Leader” have followed suit.

    If Dan brings a championship to Cleveland, I could care less what the media says about him.

    SIDE NOTE: I totally agree with TD’s side note – Holmgren is only here to get the patented Randy Lerner payoff.

  • ben

    Haters gonna hate. Dan Gilbert is against things that ESPN wants, therefore Dan Gilbert is a demon.

    It’s hilarious how much hate Gilbert caught in the media for “stopping” the CP3-Lakers deal. But then, when NOLA gets a better offer from the Clippers, there’s no single mention of “oh, maybe Gilbert was right.”

  • ben

    oh and FIRE PAT SHURMUR!!! (b/c that’s mandatory now, right?)

  • MrCleaveland

    Careful, TD. I can tell you from personal experience that to accuse Holmgren of not caring about his job is to invite a raft of sarcastic snark.

  • Wacman

    I’m a Cleveland fan who can’t stand Gilbert. While the first email was bad nationally, the second one was overall ridiculous. He came off like a crybaby who was meddling in other people’s affairs. I get his competitiveness, but I don’t think his negative image will help people want to come to Cleveland. Can you say Donald Sterling?

  • JNeids

    wait, so fans of big city teams think that a small market team owner who is trying to level out the playing field is just a whiny little brat? i honestly cant remember the last time i cared one bit about what someone from new york/boston/LA thought about anything cleveland-related (and that includes double for bill simmons)

    and other small market city team fans think he is a hypocrite for the way he handled the lebron sitchu? hey, kettle! get over here! there’s a pot you need to meet!

    seriously tho, i love me some dan gilbert, and love him even more because everyone else hates him. i loved cuban before gilbert arrived, and now i feel as if we have our own cleveland cuban. all he has done is try to bring a winner to this town, and i for one dont care how he comes across to people outside of cleveland. and people in cleveland cant appreciate his passion through a couple of letters/emails, yet also hate lerner…?

  • Matt


    Did you just make the statement that Dan Gilbert’s antics will make it difficult to get players to come here, and liken him (and his behavior) to Sterling, who just got a HUGE player to join his team?

    I don’t get what you are saying, I guess.

  • JNeids

    @wac – im pretty sure the affairs of every team in the nba, whether or not it has a direct impact on the cavs, and especially those in which he also holds a minority stake, are just as much his affairs. people can blame gilbert for free agents not coming here, but im pretty sure they werent lining up at the door before anyways. and comparing gilbert to sterling is comparing apples to racist oranges…

  • Harv 21

    TD = Quintessential Cleveland Fan. Can’t think of another city that would give a rat’s behind about how the national media perceives a local owner whom we admire.

    Your post isn’t about how potential free agents view Gilbert, so this seems like so much more Cleveland Insecure Fan Syndrome: “Oh please validate us! Please be kind, say we have someone legit people like you admire!”

  • Andrew

    I know this wasn’t the point Wacman was explicitly trying to make, but we need to be careful about comparing Gilbert to Sterling. Sterling is first and foremost a renowned bigot. Second, he has never cared about the success of his franchise. Again, Wac, I know that’s not what you were saying, but the implication is hard to ignore. It’s just a bad comparison to make.

    As for his national image, I don’t care and I don’t think he does either. I don’t care about what free agents think about him. Free agents don’t come to Cleveland regardless of who the owner is. The way to get free agents is for Kyrie Irving to be the real deal and for him to recruit other free agents to come to Cleveland. If he’s able to do that, free agents will play for Dan Gilbert. If he’s not, then we’re right back to where we were anyway. So I could care less about what Bill Simmons thinks of Gilbert. I just want him to keep fighting for the Cavs, and to keep fighting for the small market teams in the NBA.

  • jimkanicki

    harv, i admit to being in that same boat as TD. i read a lot of national media. a watch a lot of espn. it bothers me to no end how the national debate is framed in such a coastally-biased way. there’s no ‘other side to the story’ when it comes to gilbert specifically and fly-over markets in general.

    it makes the fact that they just get it wrong almost tangential.

  • Pat

    if people find it a bad thing that an owner wants to make his team win, then what kind of world do we live in? and even when LeBum was still in Cleveland, he still couldnt get anyone to come in and be a strong “wing man” so to speak like Larry Hughes was supposed to be, so people saying hes bitter because of his superstar leaving dont realize that he couldnt get the other players that the cavs needed to win. Dan Gilbert wants to make the Cavs win, whats wrong with that?

  • Lyon

    Wac… once again, we never had people coming to Cleveland with the best player in basketball. Who cares if the owner isn’t liked by other people. 1 way or the other big name FAs weren’t and won’t come to Cle.

    And have you ever heard anyone who has played for the Cavs besides LeBron say anything negative about DG? No, b/c he takes care of his players. But ESPN doesn’t want you to know that.

  • Porkchop xpress

    I thought it was humorous that Cuban essentially wrote the same letter as Gilbert, and at best took advantage of the fallout, or at worst intentionally manipulated the Lakers/Hornets trade situation so that Odom ended up in Dallas. ESPN slaughtered Gilbert and just pretended not to the crime Cuban took part in. I don’t think his image plays a bit in whether future players will come here. As mentioned Sterling is a slimy racist creep, and Chris Paul looked right past the slime and saw two Dunkasaurus’s in the Clips front court begging to be fed ‘oops. Point is if Irving becomes a top tier point guard wing players are going to come here to play because they will stuff their stats and improve their earning power.

  • JNeids

    @jimk – i have successfully purged espn from my life…well, about 90%. cancelled my subscription to the mag, stopped going to the website almost completely (save for FFB and thats only because i didnt create the league), really only turn it on the tv if theres a game i wanna watch (and those are few an far between because they never air cleveland games, and i dont care to watch yankees/sox games like they think the entire country does). and i gotta tell you i dont miss it one bit. i think i actually enjoy sports more overall.

  • Chris

    My only comment on Dan Gilbert is that I wish he’d buy the Browns. National reputation be dammed, this man has a passion to win and cares how his team performs.

    I thought he was buying the cavs for no other reason than that he thought LeBron would be easy money, but I have been proven wrong over and over again.

  • Porkchop xpress

    TD, I’d go one step further on the Holmgren robbing theory. I heard that he had actually been in cahoots with Mangini before he even got here. Apparently they didn’t actually paint over the murals in Berea, they smuggled them out (used the Cod to get them across into Canada) and sold them on the black market at a handsome profit. Apparently it was a real Oceans 11 caper. It goes far beyond that though. The master plan is to gut Berea under the guise of constantly firing personel (come to think of it, that kinda rings a little too true to be sarcasm). There is clear evidence that Mangini was seen loading copper piping from the plumbing into a Uhaul on his last day. That’s why Kokinis got the bums rush, he got wise to the whole thing, and wanted to big of a cut.
    I’m telling you, the cashing Lerner checks for doing nothing is just the tip of the iceberg.

  • ben

    @20: You are my favorite commentor by far recently

  • Harv 21

    @jim: understand, but you can’t let it get to you b/c they can’t and won’t change, it’s the nature of that beast. ESPN is about catchy loud-mouthed opinions aimed at their target demographics, blunt and catchy narratives repeated until events force them to switch to another one. This isn’t about scrutinizing reality. Cleveland sports = heartbreak montage, Cavs/Gilbert = sour grapes over LeBron, etc. And all the howling in the world from fly-overs won’t make a dent in a marketing campaign that works so great at selling beer, apparel, cars and cell phone plans.

    If Gilbert ever brings home a trophy the narrative will change, but only because their old one is no longer tenable. It won’t necessarily reflect reality (“Gilbert is a plucky never-say-die owner we’ve always admired!”) but it will change. But we won’t change it, so if that’s the game why be upset.

  • NJ

    Minor quibble: putting an owner with a bigger bank account behind the Indians wouldn’t change the way they’re run, unless that owner was willing to operate at a loss. The Indians, unlike the Browns, just don’t generate the revenue to spend like big market baseball teams.

    Based on the leaked financials I’ve seen for other small market MLB teams, I figure the Dolans may be making $15M-$20M a year. Even if they were spending that, we’d be at $90M or so, still in the lower half of teams.

    I also don’t get the Dan Gilbert love. So he lucked into Lebron, couldn’t keep him here, and didn’t win anything. Then he leveraged the goodwill that created into a sweet-for-himself casino deal. Oh, and he constantly goes on tirades that make himself look childish and bitter while perpetuating the national belief that Cleveland is a joke. Again, why the love?

  • Roosevelt

    I disagree with a number of the premises in the article. I don’t think Holmgren is phoning it in – he is legitimately rebuilding, and we are starting to see that there is a group of players that has the chance to “come out of nowhere” in the next couple of years, even though we’d like to see it sooner, and maybe keeping a lame-duck coach around wasn’t the best idea last year.
    The Indians problems are not because of the Dolans, they’re because of the small market problem in baseball. An example of owners whose personal finances are affecting the team is the Mets and the Dodgers – two huge market teams.
    Gilbert may be correct, but he is still starting to stray into an image problem. The NBA’s actions were stupid and heavy-handed, and Gilbert managed to get himself associated with it. He wasn’t wrong, but he should have been more careful in expressing it.

  • Ezzie

    I’m sorry, I love Dan Gilbert. Who gives a **** what the national media thinks? Or fans of other teams think? He’s been right every step along the way, he’s dedicated to the future of his team AND the sport, and he does his best – including spending his money – to win. I’m cool with that.

    I live in NY – people here know who Dan Gilbert is. They don’t know who Randy Lerner and the Dolans are. They LOVED George Steinbrenner – remember how the rest of us all hate him? No free agents aren’t coming to Cleveland because of Dan Gilbert – that’s ludicrous. They’re not coming because either it’s Cleveland or because they are getting offered far more money in big markets. Name me one player who has realistically been courted by the Cavs who turned them down because of Gilbert.

    Ignore ESPN, which has an agenda to support coastal teams in big markets (and to pump up their own local ESPN stations and websites in those cities).

    And, for what it’s worth, fans of all the other small market teams actually DO like the guy, even if they think he’s a bit over the top. It’s Cuban redux, except I’d venture that Gilbert is even smarter, though a bit less crazy/fanatical. If that means a Cavs championship, I’m good with that.

  • Scott

    “My only comment on Dan Gilbert is that I wish he’d buy the Browns”

    I can’t speak in 100 percent certainty, but I think the NFL forbid’s dual domestic-sport ownership. He could buy the Indians, but I think the Browns would be off limits. Could be wrong though.

  • jimkanicki

    @18jneids/22harv. unfortunately, college football is prob my favorite thing to watch so there’s no avoiding espn on that. and much as i try to make y! sports or cbssportsline a landing page for sports news, there’s just too much info to be found on their website.

    if i want a preview of the new mexico bowl (and i do) i cant avoid chris paul coverage and how it’s seems to be the greatest thing for the nba. quick glance doesnt reveal much coverage of the impact on NOR or how player movement turns flyover towns into the washington generals. plenty of smarmy criticism of gilbert; no one addressing the issues that he raised.

    and harv, you may be right about the narrative changing. i well remember how espn used to go out of their way to rag on bobby knight at every chance. seeing knight now on espn — even though he’s an excellent commentator — makes me sad in a way. when the cavs’ narrative changes and gilbert is applauded part of me wants gilbert to tell espn to shove it.

  • Dave

    I’m perfectly fine with what Gilbert said in both his letter to the fans and the e-mail. Fact is, it’s nice for once to have an owner that gives a damn about the fans and wants to do whatever he can to make the team better. I don’t think Gilbert cares whether ESPN or big markets like him. In fact, he’s probably enjoying the fact that he got under everyone’s skin so much and that’s okay with me. I’ll take a passionate owner over one who disappears unless things become completely out of control like Lerner. And I’ve never had a problem with the Dolans ownership of the Indians. Baseball’s whacked out salaries are more to blame than what the Dolans can or can’t spend.

  • Ghost

    Why the Gilbert love? Great question, that is why I always enjoy reading NJ’s comments.

    I neither love nor hate Dan Gilbert. But I will say this, we’re going to find out how good of an owner he is. Its easy to look smart when you have a player like LeBron James. 5 years from now if the Cavs are still a 60 loss team and drawing 8,000 a game, will people still love Gilbert?

    Will the team still be profitable at a level that Dan feels comfortable with? And this one will piss people off, but Ill ask anyway. Would Dan Gilbert move the Cavs to another city if the team is operating in the red? I absolutely would not put it past him.

  • Sean

    “We all love Dan Gilbert in Cleveland.”

    That is a pretty big presumption.

  • Porkchop xpress

    Ghost, I think the moving the team thing is why I have Gilbert love. Nothing would surprise me and one day he might move or sell the team to movers. Right now, he has such strong biz roots in the area, and his hometown already has a team I’m not terribly worried. Remember, when Gund sold they were easily on the “move list”. Bad team, not profitable, always going to be 3rd fiddle to the majority of Cleveland fans. I’d say if anyone but Gilbert bought them they’d be gone.

  • ben

    Ghost, I’m going to sum up your post: “Where is your god when all these hypothetical and unlikely bad things happen?”

    And if my uncle had lady-parts he’d be my aunt.

  • Kevin Hignett

    @Scott – If that rule exists, it may be specifically re: ownership of an NFL franchise and another domestic team based in the same city. Stan Kroenke owns the St. Louis Rams, the Denver Nuggets, and the Colorado Avalanche. So either there is no rule or it is structured to only forbid common ownership of and NFL team and another team in the same city.

    Also, sorry TD, but I have many problems with your article. As Harv stated, we have no control over how ESPN and sports fans on their beloved coasts view us, our teams, or our owners, so why waste time on the subject? I think we all want a winning franchise in town and I don’t care if the owner is despised by every living soul outside NE Ohio. I just want to win.

    Lastly, your analysis of the 3 franchises comes off as petulant and biased toward your favorite Indians. No disrespect, just wanted to give some honest feedback.

  • Wacman

    Whoooooaaaaaaa, let’s back this up a bit. I was totally not saying anything about race. My point was that Sterling has a negative reputation around the league, and Gilbert’s emails/letters are starting to get him one as well. Even though we may like what he’s saying, it’s not a good business practice to become disliked by future employees.

    Yes, Chris Paul did go to the Clippers, but I’m pretty sure it was just to get out of the sinking ship that is the Hornets. He originally stated that he wanted to go to the Lakers or the Knicks. When it became apparent that Stern wouldn’t let him get his way, anywhere would do. He’d have came to Cleveland for a year if it meant getting away from NO.

    Again, as much as he panders to us Clevelanders, I just don’t think it’s good PR (in terms of wanting to get and retain talented players) to do the things he’s done.

  • Tom Pestak

    This whole issues demonstrates the chasm between fans of a team, fans of a league (“nba fans”), and national pundits – who are fans of being read/heard and having inside access to players. While the whole lockout thing was going on, why do you think fans were pretty split on who was to blame for the lockout, writers were almost uniformly for the players, and “nba fans” were just mad that it was taking so long.

    Gilbert was correct in his email, the league got a better deal for the Hornets, Cuban didn’t get one ounce of criticism for being on record saying the same thing as Gilbert, and now that it’s all over, (and this is important) not a SINGLE person who went after Gilbert or Stern or the NBA at large will recant. How laughable is that people were saying this would DEFINE STERN and that it was a black eye for the league on the order of the Malice at the Palace. What the HECK is going to happen on the internet when something actually bad happens?

  • Ghost

    Ben your community college education has served you well, outstanding job mister!

  • matthew

    In addition to what JNeids and others have already said on this thread, the other reason I really could’t care less about Gilbert’s “national image problem” is that the players who actually work for him seem to have no problem at all with the man. He runs a first-class organization and treats the players well (in hindsight, much TOO well in a the case of a certain individual).

    You never hear anyone who actually works for Gilbert saying anything bad about playing for the Cavs. Look at guys like Mo Williams, who begged to stay here. Daniel Gibson, who constantly talks about how much he loves the organization, Baron Davis, who never once said a bad word about playing in Cleveland. Anthony Parker, who had plenty of suitors but just chose to re-sign with the Cavs. In fact, I can’t think of a single player who demanded a trade from Cleveland or voiced any complaints about playing for Gilbert. Lord knows they’ve had their opportunities to criticize him, but none have.

    At the end of the day, I think that stuff is far more significant in terms of attracting free agents than some alleged national image problem. Of course, Cleveland will never attract a truly top-tier free agent anyway because it’s “uncool.” But that has nothing to do with Dan Gilbert.

  • Denny

    Yes. And it’s deserved.

  • Nick

    Funny that you mention the Dolan family. If I am not mistaken, I believe that a Dolan was outbid by Al Lerner to own the 99 expansion Browns. I wonder how different things could have been.

  • craig smith

    I found this article by googling “dan gilbert whiny little.” I am not an Ohio native or fan of any team from there, so you can infer from the lacuna of my search the general national opinion of him. I am not trying to troll here either; for all I know he really is a great, locally beloved owner. But to answer the question of this article, the average (non-Ohio) fan thinks of him as a whiny, manipulative, entitled crybaby who was too foolish and/or arrogant to prepare for the LeBronacle. Now he is trying to punish other teams for his mistakes. To top it off, he made his money off the type of crappy mortgage loans that are largely responsible for the very economic downturn that is pinching the finances of his team (and everyone else’s)! So again, someone who is arrogant, foolish, or both. Not really a likable figure.

  • los143

    I hope the Cavaliers maintain a great distance from Rush Limbaugh. Any company that supports someone who so clearly has such disdain for women should not be supported by normal people and especially real men. I am a Cleveland resident and will be watching and  listening that this distance remains as is.
    Linda Swanson
    Cleveland, Oh 44102