Taking the High Road

By Mike Rothman

This is off topic but I need to vent a bit. I’ve followed the LeBron James free-agency saga with amusement. Thankfully I was in the air last night during the “Decision” TV special, so I didn’t have any temptation to participate in the narcissistic end of a self-centered two weeks. LeBron and his advisors did a masterful job of playing the media, making them believe anything was possible, and then doing the smartest thing and heading to Miami to join the Heat.

First off, I applaud all three All-Stars, who made economic sacrifices to give themselves a chance to win. They all understand that a ball-player’s legacy is not about how much money they made, but how many championships they won. Of course, the economic sacrifices are different for them – you know, whether to settle for $2 or $3 million less each year. Over 6 years that is big money, but they want to win and win now.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about how the Cavaliers’ owner, Dan Gilbert, responded to the situation. It makes you think about the high road versus the low road. Clearly Gilbert took the low road, basically acting like a spoiled child whose parents said they couldn’t upgrade to the iPhone 4. He had a tantrum – calling LeBron names and accusing him of giving up during the playoffs. The folks at the Bleacher report hit it right on the head.

I understand this guy’s feelings are hurt. LeBron (and his advisors) played him like a fiddle. They gave him hope that LeBron would stay, even though at the surface it would be a terrible decision – if the goal is to win championships. Over the past 8 years, LeBron doubled the net worth of the Cavs franchise, and that is the thanks he gets from the owner.

Can you see Bob Kraft of the Patriots having a similar tantrum? Or any of the top owners in the sport? Yes, Dan Gilbert really reflected the mood of his town. His frustration at losing the LeBron-stakes aligns with the prospect of losing a lot more in years to come. But as an owner, as the face of your franchise, you have to take the high road. You get a Cleveland sports columnist to write the hit piece making all those speculations.

But, you (and the rest of the franchise) need to act with class. Have the PR folks write a short statement thanking your departing star for 8 great years of sell-outs, wishing him the best of luck, and saying you look forward to seeing them in the Eastern Conference finals.

Most of all, you take a step back and you don’t say anything. That’s what I try to tell the kids when they are upset. And try to practice myself (failing most of the time, by the way). Don’t say anything because you’ll only make it worse and say something you’ll regret. I’m sure folks in Cleveland are happy with Dan Gilbert’s outburst, but the rest of the country sees a total ass having a tantrum in public. And overnight he made LeBron into a sympathetic figure. Which is probably what LeBron and his advisors wanted the entire time. Damn, that’s one smart power forward, probably enjoying the view from the high road.

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Mike, I’m going to play devil’s advocate with you on this one. While in most situations your analysis would be spot on—pouring proverbial gasoline on a PR fire is never a good idea—in this case, Gilbert did the right thing. He knew the people of greater Cleveland (his customers) were upset about losing Lebron, their homegrown superstar. The team, however, will still be there for years to come, so Gilbert seized the opportunity to make Lebron the bad guy. His words reflected the sentiment of the city, telling the people that he (and the franchise) also feels angry and taken advantage of. Now the city may have rallied around the team anyway, but I think knowing Gilbert feels the same way they do removes any doubt that the city will support the franchise as strongly as it ever has in hope that it can win without Lebron, or at least move on without him. Sometimes you have to say what your customers want to hear, even if it isn’t straight out of the PR handbook. I say Gilbert deserves credit for doing that.

By Eric Parizo

Well said, Mike! Words like “ethics,” “maturity,” and “professional” come to mind, none of which apply to Gilbert’s public tantrum. Would be nice if those in the glamor professions, such as sports, adhered to the same standards of behavior as the rest of us who have worked real jobs. Not to much to ask, really.—Kristen

By knfwriter

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