What NBA Owners Should Learn from Dan Gilbert's Letting LeBron Walk for Nothing
You've heard it before and you will hear it again: The National Basketball Association is just as much a business as it is a sport.
There are few people who can offer insight to such a claim quite like Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. Gilbert infamously allowed LeBron James to walk away and sign with the Miami Heat during the 2010 period of free agency.
He'd later retaliate with a heartfelt open letter which crucified the former hometown hero.
For those who missed out on reading the open letter, it can be found here (via NBA.com). For those that would like a summary of the literature, Gilbert went as far as stating:
"I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER 'KING' WINS ONE."
Well, that didn't work out as planned.
Since then, we've learned two things. For one, if you cross Dan Gilbert, he will annihilate you with the use of caps lock.
Second of all, we've learned that Gilbert regrets the statements he made and was simply caught up in the emotion of the groundbreaking "decision."
According to Tom Withers of the Associated Press, Gilbert told a group of reporters that such a statement was "not the most brilliant thing he'd ever done in his life." He also displayed a great deal of remorse.
'Looking back now, that probably was not the most brilliant thing I've ever done in my life,'' [Dan] Gilbert said Tuesday.
''If you're going to predict something that doesn't happen and you're going to do it publicly, you'd for sure take it back,'' Gilbert said. ''When that happened when they won, it was the end of the end of the end of that whole thing. Now there's nothing more to talk about. In a way it was like a little bit of a relief. If they didn't win it, it would've been still another thing of who's going to win it [first?]''
Gilbert has always been refreshing with his honesty. As he takes the humble road to accepting the unfortunate truth, Gilbert reminds us that admitting one's mistakes is the easiest road to forgiveness.
He also reminds us that letting your superstar walk is not okay. Receiving nothing in return for his departure, however, is the absolute worst-case scenario for an owner of NBA franchise.
Which is exactly why league executives must take notice of Gilbert's debacle.
Rebuilding without Compensation
The Cleveland Cavaliers really shouldn't be complaining about losing LeBron James. Although he was the face of their franchise, the team ended up landing three Top Five draft choices over the span of the following two seasons.
One of those players just so happens to be 2012 Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving.
Gilbert's Cavaliers reminded us of how risky it is to rebuild without receiving compensation for what was lost. The Cavs ended up without a first-round draft choice during the year they lost LeBron, thus leading to a full season of pitiful results and miniscule promise.
No players of tomorrow and no reasons for excitement. Just a sad congregation of veterans that couldn't get the job done.
Now if that's not worth demanding compensation, what is?
Severe Decrease in Profit
When you lose the face of your franchise, you oftentimes are witnessing your entire marketing department walk out on you.
Prior to the overwhelming insurgence of superteams, there were a significant number of franchises that relied upon one star. Cleveland was one of those teams and was left without a new face to promote.
For the Cavaliers, this led to a steep decline in ticket sales. After averaging a sell-out in 2010, the Cavs saw a slight dip to 97.8 percent in 2011.
This came by virtue of the city of Cleveland promoting an anti-LeBron campaign. After a full year in the gutter, however, the fans stopped coming.
Despite the draft selection of Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, the Cavs filled an average of 77.5 percent of their seats. That number was the fourth-worst in the NBA.
It also left a significant hole in the pockets of owner Dan Gilbert.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
If the NBA is a Business, Do It Properly
Would you ever allow someone to take your dream car without their offering you compensation? Would you give your home away without receiving money for the property?
If you answered no to both of those questions, you're logical. If your answer was yes, however, you'd simply be a poor NBA executive.
The first step on your journey would be to allow your franchise player to walk away without receiving anything in return.
We constantly hear of how the NBA is a business. What we fail to acknowledge, however, is that a key aspect of the business world is the equal distribution of rewards to either side of a proposed deal.
When that deal is executed and one side receives a greater form of compensation than the other, how can we label this as proper business execution? The truth is, we cannot.
This is exactly why NBA owners must learn from Dan Gilbert's mistake.
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