The Hard Goodbye: Dan Gilbert Should Thank LeBron James For the Times They Had

Byron on SportsCorrespondent IJuly 9, 2010

BOCA RATON, FL - JULY 08:  LeBron James announces he will join the Miami Heat during a televised interview as fans look on at Duffy's July 8, 2010 in Boca Raton, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Marc Serota/Getty Images

LeBron James made a great decision by joining the Miami Heat. Winning matters. Plenty of sports fans out there insist he should have stayed in Cleveland, or gone to Chicago.

But I ask: Why?

How many of us have sat in a stadium or in the bleachers at a game played at any level and joined the chant, "Scoreboard! ... Scoreboard!" when our team is winning. Winning matters in sports, and winning matters even more to serious competitors.

Coaches develop strategies around winning, players play to win - or at least it seems so, until many of them become professionals and the value of victory has to compete with the value of more money.

Most owners seem to be involved in the sport for the purpose of winning and making money. But, as can be seen annually in the NBA, many owners will allow a team to completely tank for a season, or two, in order to save money and execute some elaborate plan to improve their team down the road. 

None of this should come as breaking news.

James' decision is about winning. It is not about maintaining parity in the league. It is not about making the games more competitive for his opponents. It is not about being the lone alpha dog on a team of puppies. It looks like a step in the direction toward winning. 

Criticizing LeBron for leaving Cleveland, and the state of Ohio, to pursue what he sees as "greener pastures", is, on some levels, about the same as criticizing a college athlete for transferring schools to go to a winning program.

It should be pretty clear now that LeBron is serious about winning. And that says a lot about his character as a competitor.

Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has a legitimate right to be upset, and is free to express his distaste in any manner that he feels is appropriate, given the situation.

Losing LeBron to another Eastern Conference team represents a severe loss for his franchise. He was counting chickens that never hatched. It's a let down, and probably hurts as much as losing a favorite toy. Gilbert's been quite public about his outrage.

In his open letter to the Cleveland Cavaliers fans, Mr. Gilbert used plain language to communicate his anger and sense of betrayal. His statements are pretty much immune to spin and there can be little doubt that he is sincere in his conviction.

Who can say that he is wrong for making his opinions known? The Cleveland Cavaliers now have a roster that - like it or not - was built to support LeBron James and the ownership's pursuit of a championship. 

Unfortunately, all of the marketing for the team was built around a single player instead of around the team. The roster was full of hired guns - none of which the organization has any particular loyalty toward. In one decision (a decision that did not belong to the ownership), everything was lost.

But, really, Dan Gilbert should be thanking LeBron for the years of service he provided to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the excitement that he brought to the franchise.

Mr. Gilbert ought to accept that LeBron was a contracted performer for his organization (and probably underpaid for his services if you look a the contracts of other players in the league) and not property.

At the conclusion of that contract, he was free to go where he pleased. And he did.

If you really think about it, the Cavaliers did less for LeBron than he did for them. LeBron was most likely going to be the top pick in his draft class regardless of who had that pick, and LeBron's performance on the court would have been similar on any franchise he played for.

Most franchises would have leaned heavily toward appeasing the appetites of volume shooters and letting skilled players who can put the ball in the bucket showcase their skills. And any team that James was on would have made him the face of the franchise from day one.

Seeing that LeBron was already on the books with Nike before he even played a pro game, he would have been wealthy regardless. It's not like Cleveland was sticking more money in LeBron's pocket than any other team was, or doing him a special favor. 

I am not a fan of the drama and the ESPN special that were used to reveal the decision to the public. It was high theater, and may have damaged the LeBron James brand with the sport's tradiional fans.

Yet, at the same time, it was brilliant. The special got people who are not conventional NBA fans to be very aware of LeBron James. I know people who have never even seen him, Wade, or Bosh play who have been following this story.

Funny how the world works.