Even though LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world, I'm still not his biggest fan. Again, basketball is not my sport and I'm still one of the few Cleveland fans chaffed that he left in the first place. LeBron apologists, and there's a lot of 'em, scream "he gave you your first Championship," and yes, that is true, but there was something that happened last night at the AHL's Cleveland Monsters game that actually made me feel bad for LeBron. Maybe LeBron was right all along.
I love minor league hockey. It's a Tuesday night in January and you have tickets for the Manitoba Moose vs Milwaukee Admirals, great, let's go! Last night I watched the Cleveland Monsters lose in heartbreaking fashion to the Rockford IceHogs 4-3. I knew that the Monsters weren't the best team in the AHL, but I didn't realize that they were the very worst team in the AHL until they let that lead slip away and I looked up the box score at home. I kept thinking "the Monsters just won the Calder Cup 2 years ago. What happened?"
In the 11 years that Dan Gilbert has owned the Monsters, they have missed the playoffs in 9 of the 11 years they've existed. In one of the 11 years they were escorted out in the first round. And then, of course, the previously mentioned Calder Cup.
What's my point? Last night there was zero doom and gloom. The Browns just went 0-16 and there were pictures of fans with bags on their heads and rows upon rows of empty seats. The talk show hosts in town were (and still are) ready run people out of town. Worst minor league hockey team? 12, 000 fans, up to the ceiling, cheering away. Same night, first place (in the Central) Manitoba Moose? 4,000 fans. Now you could argue that Manitoba is a bad example, their attendance has been down since the Winnipeg Jets had returned, but that's not the point.
Again, and I've said this before on BOS, for Dan Gilbert, it's about the fan experience. Everyone was having a good time, none of those kids knew what was going on and only a few hardcores were dismayed by the results. Because at the end of the day it's about putting on an event. Which brings us back to the point. Between highlights on the video screen, the emblem of the Cleveland Cavaliers kept flashing. At first, I thought it was the Monsters' emblem. Nope, it was the Cavs emblem during Monsters' highlights. As I looked around the Q, all I saw was Cavs cross-promotions. All I could see were examples of Dan the Businessman everywhere I looked.
I never saw any indications of the Monsters record anywhere.
And then it hit me, Dan Gilbert is the devil. I was tipped off by THE LETTER. Specifically this line: Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there.
I once dated a girl whose Mom was very religious. I got the impression that the Mom had quite a convoluted back story, but she used to say to me "the problem with the Devil is that he doesn't come up to you, ugly and with horns, breathing fire. The Devil has a silver tongue and is handsome. He'll tell you that up is down and bad is good and you'll believe him."
Dan Gilbert thought that he and LeBron were partners there in the first go around with the Cavs. The problem is that LeBron was an AAU kid and Gilbert thought he had a young Michael Jordan. LeBron may end up being better than Jordan, but he does not have the mindset of Jordan. The best sports quote I ever heard about competitive nature was from the legendary football coach Bum Phillips.
Bryant can take his'n and beat your'n, and then he can take your'n and beat his'n.- Bum Phillips on the Greatness of Bear Bryant.
LeBron wasn't takin' his'n and beatin' your'n. He wanted to assemble his own team, AAU style, that could win because it had more talent than the other team. And that's what he did in Miami. Once his buddies got old and broken down, LeBron wanted the best team that money could buy. LeBron went where he knew the owner would spend the most money in the league.
The Devil will spend money. The Devil will do everything you ask, but there's always a catch. While the Cavs were spending money like no ones business, the Golden State Warriors built a team. So LeBron got everything he wanted, including chasing away the future of the franchise, Kyrie Irving. Trying to build a team around LeBron turned into year after year of the same refrain, holding the owner's feet to the fire by not signing long-term contracts. A yearly soap opera.
Let's ask the question a different way. Back when LeBron James was drafted in 2003, if you told the average Cleveland fan that LeBron would be the Greatest of All Time, play 20 years, but only bring the Cavs one Championship, I don't think a lot of Cleveland fans would be cool with that....
Now that I think about it.....
Maybe LeBron is Dan Gilbert's Devil. Crazy other-worldly talent. Insane basketball IQ. And drama every single minute of every single day. (But if he's not there, your franchise value drops $100 million.)
You want a championship you have to deal with the Devil.
[Insert Your Devil Here.]
After that Monsters game, I'm convinced the Monsters way is how Dan WANTS to run his sports teams. Just sit down and enjoy the show. (But don't watch too closely.)
And I'm convinced the third year in Miami is the way LeBron wanted to spend 10-15 years of his career. "I'll pick my own guys and we'll make this happen." Not "we'll build this thing around you."