A lot of hard work mixed with a little bit of luck, garnised with a dash of superstition. A business man in its purest sense, Cleveland Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert appears to be using the same formula which has made him one of the country’s wealthiest men1 to not only revitalize the city of Cleveland, but a basketball franchise which has won just 40 games in the past two seasons.
Wherein Cleveland Browns President Mike Holmgren held an appease-the-masses public relations tour to answer inquiries about the 2011 NFL season and the recently held NFL Draft, Gilbert’s mid-week address was full-steam ahead. The 2012 NBA Draft will take place in late June and the team finds out exactly where they will be selecting2 in less than three weeks. Oh, and Phase I of the casino tied to Gilbert’s name will open its doors in a little over three days. The Ledgend is indeed coming.
Standing through the duration rather than sitting on a nearby stool, clad in a navy blazer just dark enough to make his Horseshoe Casino lapel pin pop, Gilbert addressed the tough times of years past, but focused on the better ones which undoubtedly lie ahead. The city of Cleveland3, on this day just as much as the rest, was on the forefront of every answer Gilbert offered. From his pre-question address to the litany of inquiries presented to him from the local media, the fiery owner made it very evident who his audience is for nearly every business to which his ownership group is tied — it’s the Cleveland fans who keep the energy going with regard to the Cavaliers, but it’s also the future fans who he hopes will experience his energy as multiple phases of his well-documented establishment grace the banks of the Cuyahoga river.
Where the Horseshoe was not the focal point of a question, Gilbert still managed to use his latest project as means for comparison when it comes to entreprenurialship or rebuilding. His Cavaliers had been forced to do so with the departure of LeBron James, but serving as a stark contrast to most of Gilbert’s ancillary ventures, the NBA — or sport in general — provides one with additional variables. Unanswered questions, magic eight-balls and butterfly effects of decisions made, injuries and still-to-be determined salary caps, the league in which Gilbert plays a major role is undoubtedly a different landscape than the playground of urban real estate.
“It’s hard to put timetables on [rebuilding],” said Gilbert. “Even comparing it to building a casino, although you don’t know the exact date you’re going to open, you know what construction times are and you can get rough estimates. [With the Cavaliers], there are so many variables — how high you pick in the lottery, who you’re going to sign in free agency, how players develop, how other teams do relative to your team in your conference and your division — it’s hard really to put a firm timeframe on it. I can’t give exact numbers, but it’s always as soon as possible for us. We will continue to do everything as humanly possible, spending whatever it is we need to spend, if that will affect the outcome.”
Having recently purchased the Cleveland Gladiators, and owning the Cavaliers and the Lake Erie Monsters, Gilbert’s casino project projects him to own a substantial chunk of this mid-market town within the next couple of years. Given his ever-expanding tentacles, would Gilbert consider buying the Cleveland Indians? The last remaining portion of the Gateway District to not bare his name? A baseball franchise in dire need of an ownership team that can show fans that it indeed does care? For starters, he and his ownership team do not believe the team is for sale. To make matters a bit more complicated — at least for the fans who spend their summers begging for the transaction to take place — Major League Baseball has some fairly strict rules with regard to gaming. Pete Rose can tell you a thing or two about them. Alas, given the countless resources which have been poured into the pending bright lights and high-roller tables, the mere inquiry of of an acquisition would be rendered moot. But in the most Lloyd Christmas of ways, Gilbert left the idea open by adding, “We never say no to opportunities.”
After the dust settled around the speculation and ball-and-twine pipe-dreams of the future, the focus would ultimately shift back to the Cavaliers. Boasting one of the NBA’s best storylines of 2012 in point guard Kyrie Irving, Gilbert hopes that, with the solid young core of athletes and top-flight people littering the Wine and Gold roster, his team can once again return to the postseason. While 16 other NBA teams were able to continue their campaigns beyond the 66-game slate which had been afforded to them post lockout, Gilbert would much rather hold this State of the Union Address in July rather than mid-May. To aid in making this happen sooner than later, he will be ideally flanked by the same crew of individuals at the 2012 NBA Lottery as he was one year earlier — Bernie Kosar, Joe Haden and Josh Cribbs of the Cleveland Browns, Gilbert’s son Nick, and the player who was ultimately afforded to them last June in Irving.
“We really are superstitious with this stuff,” said Gilbert. This draft, he says, continues to be the focal point of said rebuild and is very important to the future of the franchise. Recall, it was Nick Gilbert who took his bow tie to the Big Apple a year earlier. It was also Nick who was present for the coin toss which provided the Cavaliers with fortuitous outcomes for both first-round selections. That said, if he doesn’t win the lottery again on May 30, he could be in for a bit of a long summer, as joked by his father.
But from the top of the organization on down, the front office to the training staff and ball boys, Gilbert feels that all of the pieces are falling in to place. A calculated Chris Grant is the ideal compliment to the emotional owner. A championship-winning head coach in Byron Scott commands respect before players even enter the room. They’ve learned from their mistakes. Gilbert feels that no other roster in the NBA is comprised of better people, and adding additional talent remains as the final step to perennial contention.
“We want to build a franchise with Kyrie or with other superstars, not around superstars,” said Gilbert. “We think that that’s probably not a great formula for success, otherwise we would have rings already — we would have a championship trophy. We believe that ‘with’ is the key here.”
Come June, the Cavaliers will have (as many as four) new pieces added to what will hopefully be a championship-calibur team after a few years of growth, progress and fine-tuning. Irving and his fellow rookie Tristan Thompson will remain as focal points of the future, being coupled with at least one player of similar youth and talent level as well as a free agent addition or two. Collectively, this team will look to pick up where it left off before the injuries and debilitating losing streaks crept in to the 2011-12 picture, revitalizing the city of Cleveland in the winter months and potentially leading to additional foot traffic to any of Gilbert’s additional properties. The future remains as bright as the lights shining down on the corner of Ontario and Prospect, and the most popular owner in the city of Cleveland — touting passion, emotion and a high level of engagement with the city4 — remains as focused as ever. While he is linked specifically to the Cavaliers, Gilbert is undoubtedly Cleveland.
And just as the roadmap Gilbert constructed and followed to get to his present location will be used in the future with regard to the Cavaliers and the city of Cleveland, and a multi-year project will soon open its doors to many intrigued customers, some things will take even more time to be ironed out. In this instance, the precise starting point of the New Expression.
“You mean since Zendon Hamilton5 left?”
1 Gilbert is ranked No. 293 on the Forbes 400, worth approximately $1.5 billion as of March, 2012
2 As high as first, as low as sixth — the difference between Anthony Davis and (gulp) Perry Jones
3 Quicken Loans will be hiring between 500-600 paid high school and college interns for this summer; Dan’s oldest son was forced to apply after expressing interest
4 A few of the “isms” which Gilbert proudly carries from business to business, focusing on human capital and innovation more than spreadsheets
5 He of the 2.3 points-per-game in 2005-06