Today the hate is raining on LeBron James, and make no mistake, on one level, he has earned every drop. The self-proclaimed King turned his free agent journey into reality television with all the subtety of Paris Hilton. He abandoned his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, gutting the value of the franchise, not to mention the economy surrounding the stadium. And he did it all to join superstar Dwyane Wade in Miami, becoming Robin to Wade's batman, A-Rod to Wade's Jeter, and telling the world he is forfeiting the chance to be recognized as the greatest to ever play the game. His ambitions are now capped at becoming Scottie Pippen 2.0. Short of sporting an "I Love BP" t-shirt, it's difficult to imagine how James could have handled this in worse fashion. Yet, this morning, many of us woke up feeling far more sympathetic than we felt when we went to sleep. That's because on the day after "the decision," we were all introduced to the odious man behind the Cavs, team owner Dan Gilbert. After LeBron made his announcement, Gilbert took to the Internet and penned a deranged open letter to Cleveland fans that would have made the Unabomber proud. Written in a creepy comic sans font, Gilbert wrote,
Dear Cleveland, All Of Northeast Ohio and Cleveland Cavaliers supporters wherever you may be tonight;
As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier.
This was announced with a several-day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his "decision" unlike anything ever "witnessed" in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.
Clearly, this is bitterly disappointing to all of us.
You simply don't deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.
You have given so much and deserve so much more.
In the meantime, I want to make one statement to you tonight:
"I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER 'KING' WINS ONE."
Gilbert followed his letter with a morning interview in which he said, "[James] has gotten a free pass. People have covered up for him for way too long. Tonight we saw who he really is." "It's not about him leaving," Gilbert added. "It's the disrespect. It's time for people to hold these athletes accountable for their actions. Is this the way you raise your children? I've been holding this all in for a long time."
Dan Gilbert needs to spare us the moral outrage. Forget about the fact that this is an utterly graceless, classless move given how much coin James has put in Gilbert's pocket. Gilbert is the man known as "Subprime Dan," the who made his millions as CEO of Quicken Loans, offering 0%, no money down mortgages to potential home buyers over the Internet. This kind of legalized loan sharking of course wrecked the US economy. But it didn't wreck Gilbert. As foreclosures reached record highs in Cleveland, Quicken Loans reported that 2009-2010 has been their most profitable period in the company's history. Now while people throughout the state of Ohio have lost their homes and livelihoods at the altar of Quicken Loans, Gilbert has announced that he will be opening four casinos throughout the state. He also funded the referendums that secured his right to legalize gambling in the state. Anyone who has been to a casino in Detroit can predict what their Ohio variant will look like: working class families -- black, brown, and white -- dragging their kids to the bingo parlor and the penny slots hoping against hope they can raise enough to keep the bank from taking their home -- perhaps even thanks to a subprime mortgage courtesy of Quicken Loans. The point here is an obvious one. If anyone has stabbed the people of Ohio in the back, it's not LeBron James: it's Dan Gilbert. And if we didn't understand why LeBron would want to leave his home town of Cleveland yesterday, we certainly get it now. Talk about a bad sport.
[Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming "Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love" (Scribner) Receive his column every week by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact him at email@example.com.]
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