Sports

Will LeBron James Dump The Cavaliers Over Trump?

by Robert Silverman

April 6, 2018
Photo by Phil Long/AP Photo.

Ever since the Cleveland Cavaliers were trounced by the Golden State Warriors in the 2017 Finals, rumors have been flying that LeBron James will not pick up the option on the final year of his contract and drive Cleveland Cavaliers fans to burn his jersey in effigy. Again.

According to Chris Sheridan, a longtime NBA information merchant and NJ Advance Media Group columnist, it’s a done deal. James is planning to bolt, he says — mainly because of owner Dan Gilbert’s affinity for Donald Trump.

Via NJ.com:

“When the information was given to me, my source said: ‘The entire NBA knows it. The only people who don’t are the media.’ … The No. 1 reason why this is going to happen is because Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is a huge Trump supporter; LeBron is not.”

It’s not the first time Sheridan has asserted that James would be ditching Cleveland. In August, he tweeted, “NBA source said today: ‘This will be LeBron’s final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair.’”

Yes, Gilbert’s company, Quicken Loans, donated $750 thousand to President Trump’s inaugural committee and he, along with his wife Jennifer, donated $2.1 million to GOP causes in 2016, with over 50% of that going to a pro-Chris Christie super PAC. (The president also personally dragged a very reluctant Gilbert into a photo op at the White House in June 2017.)

And yes, James campaigned for Hillary Clinton, called Trump a “bum” when the president retracted his non-invitation to the Golden State Warriors for the traditional White House visit, and in a recent interview, said of the president, “The number-one job in America — the appointed person — is someone who doesn’t understand the people. And really don’t give a fuck about the people.”

But framing the political divide as the main point of contention between Gilbert and James doesn’t really tell the whole story.

Per ESPN, James was upset with the supporting cast Gilbert had assembled around him as far back as January 2017 — as well as the seeming refusal by Gilbert to spend whatever it took, luxury tax penalties be damned. The trade of star guard Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics only deepened the divide, to the point that James refused to commit to the Cavs beyond the 2017-18 season. Prior to the trade deadline, when the Cavs dramatically rejiggered the roster, James was still seething.

To be clear, there’s a more-than-decent chance James bolts, but if he really is using politics as a litmus test for his next home, he’s going to be crossing quite a few potential destinations off his list.

While it would take some serious salary cap machinations in order to carve out the necessary space, the Houston Rockets would be transformed into a Galactus-like devourer of worlds if they slotted LeBron in at the power forward slot alongside James Harden and Chris Paul.

One minor problem: The team was recently bought by a restaurant and casino impresario with a ten-figure net worth, Tilman Fertitta. He’s a big fan of shredding every regulation that might put a dent in the free flow of capital and would be quite pleased if President Trump could finally wreck the Affordable Care Act once and for all.

As for Trump’s job performance, Tilman gave him a passing grade. “I think Trump has done fine so far. Everybody has him under a microscope,” Fertitta said in March 2017. Save for a few unnamed stumbles, “I think he’s doing a great job.”

How about the Philadelphia 76ers? They’re headed towards their first 50-win season, boast two soon-to-be superstars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and still have draft picks and cap space galore.

Alas, principal owner and vulture capitalist Josh Harris has been giving the Trump administration a few tips regarding infrastructure policy. Harris’s advice was deemed so swell that Jared Kushner tried to convince him to take a gig in the White House; Kushner’s sketchy real estate concern received a $184 million loan from Apollo Capital, the private equity firm Harris founded.

It’s a longshot, but the San Antonio Spurs have been mentioned as a possible landing spot. Luckily, the Spurs head coach, Gregg Popovich, has been a vocal and pointed critic of the president and they’re still working on a two-decade-long streak of dominance, including four titles.

But, uh-oh, Julianna Holt, the Spurs chairwoman, recently took the reins from her retired husband, Peter Holt, a longtime GOP donor. The couple gave $5,400 to the Trump campaign and an additional $250,000 to another pro-Trump committee.

That leaves the Los Angeles Lakers, who’ve been moving heaven and earth to lure LeBron for a good long while and may be able to add Paul George as a sidekick. And wouldn’t you know, while owner Jeanie Buss hasn’t dropped a ton of cash into political coffers, she did give $5,000 to Democrats in 2006.

There you have it, folks. LeBron is going to Hollywood!

Sarcasm aside, NBA owners have engaged in all manner of political acts which have nothing to do with donations, any one of which might convince a left-of-center individual like LeBron James to turn up his nose. If, you know, he actually were such an ideologue that politics would trump a sound basketball and financial decision.

Does Gilbert’s playing buddy-buddy with the president irk him? Odds are it does, and it’s only soured a relationship that was fairly rancid to begin with, going back to the infamous comic sans letter Gilbert wrote way back in 2010.

But if James is playing in greener pastures next year, don’t be surprised if it’s with an owner who has a MAGA hat secretly stashed in a closet somewhere.

Share image by Phil Long/AP Photo.

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