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.