Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert made waves earlier this month when reports surfaced that he was looking to sell his stake in Jack Entertainment LLC, a Detroit-based urban gaming company (their words) with interest in six casinos and other ventures, including Greektown Casino in Detroit. Those who pay attention to this sort of thing wondered aloud if this meant Gilbert was preparing to make a serious offer to buy the Detroit Tigers, who some believe have been up for sale the moment former owner Mike Ilitch passed away in February 2017.
Before we go there, let’s take you behind the scenes here at BYB. We tend to shy away from rumors like this because it involves a lot of hearsay. Sure, there’s a lot of that involved in July 31 rumors and the MLB Winter Meetings and the like, but this type of off-field stuff is different. Our hesitancy in writing about this topic stems not from interest or availability, but rather skepticism about the rumors themselves. Simply put, we don’t believe this is going to happen.
But this topic has legs, so let’s get to it.
Gilbert has made his wealth largely on the back of Quicken Loans Inc. (formerly Rock Financial), a mortgage lending company headquartered in Detroit. He was born in Detroit, and still lives in Michigan. But he is most famously known as the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and infamously known for his fairly public feud with Lebron James when the superstar first left Cleveland to play for the Miami Heat in 2010. Gilbert later mended fences with James, the two reunited, and the Cavaliers won the NBA championship in 2016.
On the surface, Gilbert looks like the kind of owner fans dream of having. He helped revitalize the Cavaliers franchise (along with James and other high draft picks, of course), and spent well into the NBA’s luxury tax to bring a title to Cleveland. He caters to his stars, a quality shared by the late Mike Ilitch. Gilbert has also been at the forefront of Detroit’s push to land a Major League Soccer franchise, and was previously involved in a bid for the Milwaukee Brewers when they went up for sale in 2004.
As far as owners go, he leans much closer to the “fan” side of the spectrum.
But he’s not perfect. As mentioned, Gilbert was unable to keep Lebron in Cleveland back in 2010, and recently lost James in free agency again, this time to the Los Angeles Lakers. There are a number of reasons why these partings occurred, but Gilbert shares some of the blame — the second time, especially. Gilbert and former Cavaliers general manager David Griffin could not come to terms on a new contract in June 2017, leading to Griffin’s resignation and subsequent departure. Lebron sent a heavy-handed tweet in support of Griffin soon after, and many believe that this soured the James-Gilbert relationship a second time around, potentially leading to Lebron’s second departure.
These things happen from time to time, but Gilbert’s track record of dealing with front office executives is troubling.
When Gilbert took control as Cavs majority owner in 2005, he hired Danny Ferry as general manager. Under Ferry (and LeBron James, of course), Cleveland flourished. The Cavaliers made an NBA Finals appearance in 2007 but ultimately didn’t have the firepower to get back within championship contention.
Cleveland was 272-138 under Ferry’s lead as GM. Then a month before his contract was set to expire, the Cavaliers released a statement: The two sides had parted ways.
Chris Grant was the next general manager to take control after Ferry’s departure. Grant was credited with drafting Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson in 2011 and Dion Waiters in 2012. He also selected Anthony Bennett No. 1 overall in 2013.
But Gilbert was impatient as Grant put together assets for the Cavaliers to build forward. He fired his second general manager halfway into the 2013-14 season and elevated Griffin into the lead role.
I don’t want to downplay the importance of having a good general manager in the NBA — Pistons fans, you know what I’m talking about — but having a strong front office in Major League Baseball is absolutely critical for success. If Griffin’s sketchy history with front office executives were to follow him from Cleveland to Detroit, that could spell disaster for a Tigers team currently looking to pull itself out of the doldrums.
Again, this is all speculation. Even the sensationalist headlines about Gilbert’s interest in the Tigers are backed up by all sorts of hedging within the articles themselves, and Chris Ilitch has stated repeatedly that he wants to keep the team in the Ilitch family.
But if a sale were to happen — again, that’s a huuuuuge ‘if’ — there’s no guarantee it would be for the better in the long run.