Dan Gilbert’s perennial NBA lottery parties solidifying Cleveland and Cavaliers as league laughingstock

by Cleveland Frowns on May 23, 2013

“I think twice about the big bow tie. You wearin’ one? I wanna know why.”Kool Keith

—————

Dan Gilbert’s private jet: Where dignity and diversity go to die.

Here’s the entourage that the Cavs owner shuffled to New York City to represent Cleveland at his third annual NBA draft lottery party on Tuesday. If you’re counting, that’s at least two morning drive-time sports talk radio hosts, one celebrity chef/burger chain owner who sells a lot of sandwiches at Quicken Loans Arena (and advertises heavily with one of those radio hosts), and one locally based rapper who sold the Cavs an intro song and headlines his Instagram page with an ode to masturbating in airplane bathrooms.

clown show

Clown Show 2

And here’s Grantland’s Zach Lowe with an incisive and charitable first-hand account of how, “it has been a little off-putting over the last three seasons to watch Cleveland turn a loser’s event into a ritualized frat party.”

Of the Gilbert contingent’s explosive lottery room celebration that erupted when it was announced that the Cavs had won the first pick, Lowe explains:

You’d normally reserve that expression to praise someone who had completed a difficult task — for a job well done, or the culmination of hard work, practice, and the honing of skills.

The Cavaliers were going bananas over their ability to lose an incredible number of NBA games and then perform well in a contest that involves sitting in a chair while watching officials suck Ping-Pong balls out of an air pressure machine.

It was all in good fun, I realize, and winning the no. 1 pick is a thing worth celebrating. But it has been a little off-putting over the last three seasons to watch Cleveland turn a loser’s event into a ritualized frat party. There just aren’t many teams who would react this way, for a variety of reasons. Some are more buttoned-up and business-oriented. Some are legitimately ashamed to be there, or at least sad about it. And some have handed control of things to analytics-oriented people who understand and internalize the idea that the lottery is really a very silly random drawing based on set probabilities. It’s just math.

Of course it’s better to win the NBA lottery than not to, but in a world where energy is limited, why release any more than the absolute minimum of yours celebrating a win like this that you did absolutely nothing good and only anything bad to “deserve”? It’s like celebrating receiving a welfare payment, but much worse, because the NBA is exponentially more fair than real life. Why not keep the fire burning at full steam, and save the party for a day when you have something legitimate to celebrate? Of course it’s easy to understand why “there just aren’t many teams who would react” to the NBA lottery like Gilbert’s Cavs do.

But naturally, Lowe’s column provoked an avalanche of response from offended Cleveland fans. “We’ve been through so much. We never win anything. Can’t you just let us enjoy this one? Anyway, this only shows how much Gilbert loves Cleveland, and how passionate he is about bringing us a winner.”

Which is fine on the surface, if only from the fan’s perspective. It’s important to have hope. But the more important issue here is with respect to where that hope should be invested. And the deeper questions, ones that a writer in Lowe’s position is only permitted to hint at, are about an owner who so aggressively and enthusiastically courts such an emotional release from his fanbase over an event as ignominious as the draft lottery.

What could it possibly say about how much Gilbert “loves” Cleveland, or how “passionate” he is about bringing Cleveland a winner, when he’s only ever done anything that any vain billionaire could do? Any vain billionaire could have written a nasty letter to flame up hatred for LeBron. Any vain billionaire who owns an NBA franchise could “earn” a high lottery pick for three years in a row. Any vain billionaire who owns an NBA franchise could make a scene by flying a bunch of pocket celebrities to the draft lottery.

And when Dan Gilbert does these things, it only strengthens the worst inferences about a budding casino magnate who rose to riches selling mortgage loans before the housing bubble popped. Inferences about people who think it’s more important to “win” and have things than it is to say or do the right things. Inferences about people who crave power over anything else, and inferences about a leader’s deepest priorities, and how those priorities affect his management of limited resources. Inferences that explain why some people are more hard-wired than others are to “turn a loser’s event into a ritualized frat party.”

And that also explain why NBA stars Kevin Love (a widely rumored trade target of the Cavs) and Damian Lillard, representing their teams in the lottery room, strained to repress their laughter at the Cleveland contingent.

—————

Go read all of Lowe’s piece, especially on Love and Lillard. And you won’t want to miss Tony Rizzo’s candid explanation of how there’s hardly such a thing as paid local sports journalism in Cleveland. Only “partners”/fans/game show hosts.

  • JWMarriott

    There’s a lot to say here, but due to salt related considerations, two points:

    1. It’s laughable that Lowe would impugn Rizzo was being more a fan than a journalist. Wasn’t Grantland founded by the archetype fanboy journalist? This ain’t 1985.

    2. Love and Lillard could have smirked for a million different reasons. They could have been just amused and nothing more. Lowe’s suggestion is kind of weak when it doesn’t appear that he even made an attempt to talk to either of them.

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      “[Love] politely confirmed to me afterward that he and Lillard were indeed trying to absorb what was happening.”

      This really isn’t hard. It was a clown show. Love and even Lowe are only in a position to say so much.

  • http://twitter.com/dimoko dimoko

    I’ve got 2 things to say about this, very similar to you. Number 1, ESPN shouldn’t tell us when/what to celebrate. They don’t give a shit about us. But number 2, if this ESPN’ing turns into our reputation and affects respectability and ultimately on-court performance, we need to re-evaluate the circus.

  • greg

    Wasn’t the national media’s problem with the 2005-10 teams that they didn’t “do enough” to create a “supporting cast”? And wasn’t one of the biggest causes of that problem the fact that the team was too successful too soon, and therefore had no high lottery picks? And isn’t this losing process exactly the solution to that problem? So why can’t it be a little bit fun?

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      Paul Brown said you shouldn’t even celebrate when you win. The view expressed here is far more charitable than that.

      A bit fun is one thing, but again, the idea is that one shouldn’t celebrate unless he achieves something and that lucking into a lottery pick that you “earned” for being the third worst team in the league doesn’t really count as an achievement.

      As a secondary point, there are teams that are in the lottery year in and year out.

      • greg

        I suppose I’m suggesting that maybe timely losing is an achievement. It seems unfair to criticize a team with a young superstar for both (1) not surrounding him with enough other good players, which was a result of, among other things, not losing enough early on, and also (2) for losing too much early on, benefiting from that losing, and being happy about that. It might be that no one has expressed both these views, but it seems like both are popular nationally, and inconsistent with each other. It can’t just be “No matter what, Cleveland messed up.”

        I don’t care if Gilbert is criticized–he’s an adult and can handle it. I could be wrong, but I assume he does these things because fans enjoy them. And that seems to me to be better than the opposite.

        • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

          This is ridiculous. Nobody criticized the Cavs for “not losing enough” when LeBron was here. Any morons can run a losing NBA franchise. “Success” in the NBA lottery guarantees nothing.

          And yes it’s understood that there’s an element of fans that enjoy Gilbert’s displays over winning the NBA’s losers award. Gilbert’s supposed to be better than that.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    I understand a ton of what Lowe and you are saying, but I’m not sure where the criticism needs to land. When else do you get to see ESPN use their best suspense music bed while having camera shots of old women standing next to Mikhail Prokhorov as the giant Russian finds out he isn’t getting the #1 pick? (pic attached)

    I was watching at home and celebrated with my son. Should I have more self-respect too, or is this just about the billionaire owner? (No snark implied, BTW.)

    If it is just about the owner, what’s the protocol for him to show up to an admittedly awkward ceremony blatantly stealing its vibe from every “reality” TV show where people get voted off?

    None of this is to defend Gilbert or his motley crew and their reactions, because I get that it’s a bit weird when you really think about it. I just don’t know whether it’s all that preferable to show up, sit quietly and silently fist-pump and smile for the camera.

    Also, I’m guessing you’re not allowed to be unrepresented, which seems to be the only acceptable solution to be appropriately embarrassed to be in contention for the #1 pick?

    • NeedsFoodBadly

      And I thought the reaction to Lowe’s piece was weird. Maybe I read it differently than others, but I didn’t see his being so much critical as it was bemused about celebrating a statistically unlikely reward for poor play. I didn’t think it was particularly harsh – it just described some of the inherent strangeness of the event while fairly asking if it was warranted. But I don’t think it was mean.

      If ESPN didn’t intend for it to be entertaining in some fashion, they wouldn’t televise it anyways.

    • HeatItUp

      All very well said. People are at the lottery because the NBA has them there, so I’m not sure much brain-damage needs to be incurred wondering if their etiquette is appropriate for the situation. It’s neither a wedding nor a funeral nor anything close to either.

      If we are wondering about etiquette, I’d like to note that the Jazz representative quietly (but clearly) muttered a minor curse word after finding out the Jazz didn’t leapfrog into the top 3. I hope JazzFrowns.com is ripping into him appropriately.

      • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

        Uh, pass on the proposition that useful analysis can only be made of human behavior when that behavior occurs at weddings and funerals.

        Kevin Love was laughing at them. There are easy inferences about why he was laughing at them that strengthen related inferences that get to the heart of far more important choices about “brain-damage.”

        • HeatItUp

          Agreed.

        • nj0

          If people do not logically connect this laughter to our inability to land free agents then they are being delusional. This isn’t difficult.

        • http://twitter.com/dimoko dimoko

          We thought Nick Swisher was laughing at the scoreboard and the stuff we did to get him too.

        • BIKI024

          Kevin Love might be an employee of Dan Gilbert via trade for that #1 pick DG just won via party/entourage.

          it’s perfectly reasonable for a rebuilding team like the Cavs after a monumental loss of a superstar for basically nothing to be in the lottery for 3-4+ consecutive years. just look at the Bulls.

          either way, it’s pretty remarkable fortune for Cavs fans to have the #1 pick 2 out of 3 years in their hopes of getting the team back into relevance. they have seemingly hit a homerun with Kyrie, now we’ll see who they go after this year. I hope they go after McLemore. i know him and Dion play same position but you can never have enough scorers and this dude can put the ball in the hoop.

      • p_forever

        “quietly but clearly” is EXACTLY how a team rep (in our case the owner of the team) should act at the lottery.

        if we were now talking about how dan gilbert was “quiet,” yet “clearly” happy about the number one pick, that’d be great. in fact, it’d be so unremarkable that we wouldn’t be talking about it at all. which is exactly why no one is talking about the jazz rep today.

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      I make an explicit distinction between the fans and Gilbert in the post, but of course there’s legitimate reasons for fans to temper their enthusiasm as well.

      The weather is a good comparison here. Winning this pick is like waking up on a morning that you have plans to do a lot of important yardwork (or whatever) and seeing that the weather is good. You’re glad, but you don’t pop bottles and inviting your friends on a private plane about it. The yardwork still has to be done, and would have had to have been done even if the weather had turned out bad.

      The fact that Gilbert “earned” this particular weather for his team being terrible makes the celebration all the more questionable.

      “I understand a ton of what Lowe and you are saying, but I’m not sure where the criticism needs to land.”

      How about here:

      Of course it’s better to win the NBA lottery than not to, but in a world where energy is limited, why release any more than the absolute minimum of yours celebrating a win like this that you did absolutely nothing good and only anything bad to “deserve”? Why not keep the fire burning at full steam, and save the party for a day when you have something legitimate to celebrate?

      Any vain billionaire could have written a nasty letter to flame up hatred for LeBron. Any vain billionaire could “earn” a high lottery pick for three years in a row. Any vain billionaire could make a scene by flying a bunch of pocket celebrities to the draft lottery.

      And when Dan Gilbert does these things, it only strengthens the worst inferences about a billionaire budding casino magnate who rose to riches selling mortgage loans before the housing bubble popped. Etc. Etc. Etc.

      • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

        Most important in all of this, are you going to come and discuss this in person with Brian and me prior to seeing Fast and Furious 6 tomorrow night? 🙂 https://www.facebook.com/events/473405646072088/

        • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

          I really wish I could but unfortunately I’m tied up tomorrow night.

          • dubbythe1

            Frowns costplussin

    • http://brian23.com Brian

      To me it’s as simple as:

      1) Nobody else brings an bow-tie laden entourage and makes a spectacle of themselves, so that’s clearly not the protocol.

      2) Act like you’ve been there before, even when winning (getting lucky at) something like this. That’s just a simple rule of sports.

      3) Even if mass hysteria was the required response, there’s no reason to go through with it when the top prospect is a 6-10, 206 pound forward with a torn ACL who didn’t even average 10 boards a game.

      Really though, it’s just…doing what they did is dumb and embarrassing and desperate. The joke is always that the NFL Draft is the Browns Super Bowl – why do we have to drag that to another of our teams in such literal fashion.

      That he can’t see that is a shame.

  • NeedsFoodBadly

    For what it’s worth, Kool Keith, my impression is that the bowties are to raise money/awareness for the Children’s Tumor Foundation at the Clinic.

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      So that’s why Rizzo, Michael Symon and MGK hopped on Gilbert’s jet. For tumor awareness.

      And LeBron televised The Decision for the Boys and Girls Club.

      • HeatItUp

        Agreed. And I must say, the number of kids at the Boys and Girls Club was probably double the size of any posse or entourage I’ve seen at any basketball event. So there’s that.

      • NeedsFoodBadly

        No, I assume Rizzo, Symon and the very terrible MGK hopped on Gilbert’s jet to party at the draft lottery.

        I was solely responding to Kool Keith’s question about why they were wearing bowties – accept my assurance that I wasn’t insinuating or implying anything larger about the event or attendees beyond that. This was singularly a bowtie-related comment.

        • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

          Thanks for clarifying.

      • Rob Rains

        So gilbert is making a spectacle of the spectacle that was made originally by ESPN? I am with Frowns that this is absolutely a bittersweet event and whatever good fortune comes from being the luckiest loser is also immediately tempered by the fact that it’s a long ass road to June.

      • Rob Rains

        Also what do you have against MGK? The guy can spit hot fire! Although, I prefer Kid Cudi (also a Shaker guy and former classmate)

      • Brian Sipe

        in fairness Michael Symon was already in NYC shooting his TV show, he simply stopped over…

  • HeatItUp

    Does any of this Cleveland-overexcitement really matter? The national media has moved on to LeBron’s thrilling game-winner against the Pacers. Why can’t the Cavs just try to draft someone like that?

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      LOL.

    • Jim

      “Thrilling” in the sense that he shot an uncontested layup. He played very well last night, but his game winner was certainly not of the “thrilling” variety. What a terrible breakdown by the Pacers.

      • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

        Also technically “thrilling” in the sense that it was a game winner on an inbounds play that started with 2.2 seconds on the clock.

        • Jim

          And? He got the ball near the top of the key, turned left, had already gotten by the defender and walked in for a layup. Great game, great win, but it wasn’t “thrilling” ala his three pointer against Orlando in game two in 2009.

          • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

            “LeBron James caught the pass with one foot beyond the 3-point arc and his momentum
            carrying him away from the basket. His back foot was roughly 24 feet from the basket, or about eight yards. James navigated the entire
            distance from catch to layup in less than 2.2 seconds.

            “Paul George took a bad angle. Sam Young was late rotating over. Roy Hibbert was on the bench shaking his head mournfully. Blah, blah, blah. LeBron James moved eight yards in less than 2.2 seconds with one power dribble and finished with his off hand.”

            http://www.sbnation.com/2013/5/23/4359294/lebron-james-heat-pacers-nba-playoffs-2013

          • bupalos

            Meh. Clock started a bit sluggishly, and it really didn’t look like much to me, just a really bad jump-out by the defender (though nice quick recognition by James, as per usual.) I think something close to the majority of the NBA’s slashers could have completed that play.

  • MOARwins

    We get it you don’t like Gilbert, but please stop trying to turn a good thing into something negative. I could care less how anyone perceives Clevelanders reactions. We should celebrate any chance we get, we don’t have the opportunity very often.

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      “But naturally, Lowe’s column provoked an avalanche of response from offended, and to be fair, impossibly snakebitten Cleveland fans. ‘We’ve been through so much. We never win anything. Can’t you just let us enjoy this one?'”

      • Believelander

        The best way to reply to the offended and impossibly snakebitten is to be condescending and impossibly dismissive….

  • nj0

    Is that the 10th Doctor?

  • http://twitter.com/dimoko dimoko

    Lowe is so self important when talking to and about Rizzo. I am not a KNR fan, but to think that any basketball writer has a “journalism hat” is silly. The world has real problems, so save the “journalism” for those.

    • nj0

      I don’t get this at all. First off, there isn’t a limited supply of “journalism” on the planet. Being truthful and above reproach is free and does not reduce any of the limited energy on the planet that Frowns mentioned.

      Second, it’s not like I’m asking for these guys to do hard hitting, serious stories all the time. What I want is to know that when I read a story, it’s factual and honest, not influenced by the access, perks, connections, private jet rides, etc. gifted by the team. That’s not too much to ask. Honestly, how can I take anything Rizzo says about this team seriously any more?

      • http://twitter.com/dimoko dimoko

        you can’t, that is why he does a morning radio show.

        • nj0

          Which doesn’t mean that other, better basketball writers and radio show hosts around the country don’t do real journalism. I don’t get why Clevelanders expect so little from their local media.

          • http://twitter.com/dimoko dimoko

            I read the bloggers, i skip the radio

          • nj0

            I do too. I just don’t think Lowe is being self important in his criticism of Rizzo.

    • Steve

      Rizzo is a dummy, and his entire schtick is about being a dummy homer. Lowe did him a favor by mentioning him to a national audience, and painting him in exactly the light Rizzo wants to be painted in.

  • beeceeinla

    i’m only able to observe gilbert from a distance being out here in LA, but early on, my take has been that gilbert is very aware of the impact of his behavior when it comes to the fan base and he uses that to manage fan expectations. as a consequence, he’s gotten a pass from most cleveland fans for results that have polarized indians and browns fans vis a vis their ownership decisions.

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      Gilbert is a skilled manipulator, yes. That is beyond debate.

    • nj0

      It’s like he jedi mindtricked the entire city. If Dolan did something like this he’d get thrown into a sack and then tossed into the Cuyahoga and then the rabble would set it on fire.

    • beeceeinla

      the jaded will question his sincerity in how he comports himself publicly. but from out here, i can’t help but feel a little admiration for his ability to read and manage the fans; the dolans biggest sin IMO has been their naivete resulting in publicly expressing expectations of contending in six year cycles. the cleveland fan base reminds me of a chris rock comedy routine. i’d compare the fan base to someone whose uncle put them through college – but also molested them. the dynamics aren’t all that dissimilar.

      the pic reminded me of gilbert’s lack of physical stature and prompts conjecture concerning a potential napolean complex; the smaller the guy, the more they feel compelled to do to compensate?

  • dmcCleveland

    You are so right. Can you imagine someone having a blowout party to celebrate the future potential of a Cleveland sports team? Ridiculous.

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      This is breathtakingly, um, when it’s the actual owner of the team who’s primarily responsible for the team being terrible doing the party thing on national television it’s a lot different.

    • bupalos

      I could run a few yards with that (a few) IF there was any consensus prospect. The reality is it’s not clear that we ended up with a different player than we would have had if we stayed on par. So a rampaging Mingo blows that baby up in the backfield.

  • jamick6000

    who was the other media person besides Rizzo there?

    also, love that grantland article.

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      Andy Baskin.

      • jamick6000

        thank you.

  • jamick6000

    ‘[Rizzo] had no ethical qualms about taking off his journalism hat and replacing it with a (metaphorical) Cavaliers beer helmet. “Absolutely not,” he said. “Absolutely not. I’m just a Cleveland sports fan, bro, from way back when.”


    There’s nothing more pathetic than a 50-something year-old bro. What a disgrace.

    • nj0

      60-something year-old bro?

  • nj0

    What I don’t get is that I regularly hear and read comments from Cleveland sports fans complaining about how free agents don’t want to come here. Two reasons I often hear: our teams 1.) constantly lose and 2.) are seen as bush league organizations. Here we have an event exemplifying both of these yet Clevelanders are still defending Gilbert. I really, really don’t get it. Please explain!

  • BigDigg

    Wasn’t it just last week that the consensus view on this site was that Grantland was trash? And yet we now have two signature Frownie posts in two weeks based on Grantland articles.

    I really don’t see what all the fuss is about. The Cavs entourage provided some much needed color to what is otherwise a completely lifeless and drab affair. The whole thing is a solid 10 on the awkward scale to begin with. it’s possible and reasonable to celebrate good fortune even when it isn’t necessarily earned.

    • nj0

      Grantland:this article::Browns:Phil Dawson

      • BigDigg

        Your Analogy:My Post::Spruce Goose:Aviation
        🙂

    • NeedsFoodBadly

      Grantland has a lot of crap, but it also has Zach Lowe, one of the best NBA writers out there. His writing alone keeps me going back there.

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      The consensus view on this site last week was that Grantland produces some excellent content but could be a lot better.

  • bupalos

    I really don’t get how so many people don’t get this. The welfare payment and yardwork analogies are so spot on they belong on the GRE. The real question here is just what the hell are they celebrating, when there is no consensus on anything between 1-4? In the lebron year you could see this kind of reaction, because you are honestly celebrating your instantly brightened future. But here they honestly seem to be celebrating WINNING THE NBA LOTTERY ITSELF. To the point that it makes you wonder if they were deliberately dumping games at the end.

    The whole thing oozes with the Panglossian fluid that is the lifeblood of the genus Hucksteres Billionairius.

  • Believelander

    It’s amazing that people can make nasty inferences about someone’s business without ever providing a scrap of evidence of any of the things they are inferring. Which, of course, is only amazing because people should know that such roundabout unsubstantiated accusations really only cast doubt on the veracity of the claim.

    which is why the saying goes, “nut up or”….well, you know.

  • Brian Sipe

    Rizzo screaming was the only bad part for me… He sounded and looked stupid.

  • MichaelTheRed

    Should the cavs make a run at Howard? Trade down this years pick and try to land Dwight?

    • NeedsFoodBadly

      NO

  • NickNorthern

    You wrote a great big article about such a small thing. I read your articles regularly, and enjoy your commentary and unique perspective. However, I gotta disagree with you on this one. Gilbert was a bit over-the-top with his celebration, but I find the overreaction to it to be even more so. Gilbert is hardly a saint, but the draft has nothing to do with his casino’s, or any of his other shady dealings.

    This situation is about an owner looking for something to promote for his slumping franchise. He chose to do that by putting his son front-and-center and you can clearly see how much fun the kid is having. I see that as a good thing. Yeah, it is strange that all these ‘celebs’ were ‘representing’ the Cavs, but not so much so if you consider that they may be people Dan Gilbert’s son is a fan of, or enjoys being around. I saw this draft party thing as a way for Dan to make his son feel good, and winning the #1 pick made it that much sweeter.

    All the grief seems inappropriate and harsh to me, no matter what Dan Gilbert has done. Lets be happy with what we have while pushing for change, or you are always going to have a cloud over your head. All that matters is this. The Cavs got the #1 pick, and that is better than the #2 pick, regardless of how strong the draft class is, or what this team did this season. A draft can’t fix a losing season, but it can help our next one. We are better off with Kyrie, Triston and Dion and hopefully this pick will also be a good one. That is something to celebrate if you are a Cavs fan.

  • Petefranklin

    Hey everyone, the season win total from William Hill is out and guess where the Browns are? 6.5, which was my first prediction a month or so ago. The Browns are also pick vs Miami week 1, and I will admit that I was totally wrong thinking the Dolphins were going to get some sharp $$$ last week. I guess the Clownies do have some hope in some linesmakers eyes. I am hopeful this year but I was in Shurmers first year as well so well see. I still haven’t seen the LVH season win lines which are usually the sharpest in town.

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