Gilbert v. James: Totally off my radar

Posted on: July 13th, 2010 by Ron Kaplan

I was listening to the podcast of yesterday’s Pardon the Interruption on the way in to work this morning. The topic was (still) Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert going off on LeBron James.

With all the animosity Gilbert directed at his former star, I never considered, as a white person, that his words carried any type of racial overtones. But yes, they did, at least according to the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

PTI co-host Michael Wilbon — who is African-American — affirmed that, yes, there was something in Gilbert’s comments that smacked of a “slave master mentality,” that James was his “property,” and that Gilbert felt it was his prerogative to “keep” James as long as he deemed appropriate. Guest host (and old white dude) Bob Ryan,  filling in for Tony Kornheiser, didn’t see it that way, comparing Gilbert’s remarks to those of a scorned lover, as many of us — evidently too naive to read between the lines — believed them to be.

Here’s the clip from the show. What do you think?

Granted, this blog is directed at a specific demographic, but am I being too sensitive against Jackson/Wilbon or too insensitive re: Gilbert?

I know it’s impossible to compare, but I can’t help thinking if this was Larry Bird leaving the Cavaliers and pulling the same stunt as James, don’t you think Gilbert would react the same way, with the same caustic statement? Would anyone criticize him for the “slave master mentality” if that was the case? Is it such a philosophy directed against African-Americans or athletes in general? For decades, team owners treated their players as chattel, trading, selling, or releasing them on a whim. Just because they’re shelling out scadillions of dollars doesn’t mean their underlying line of reasoning has changed. “You work for me. I pay you plenty. You owe me — and the fans (but mostly me) — something.”

By the way, despite noting that Gilbert “was completely correct in expressing his disappointment,” NBA commissioner David Stern handed down a $100,000 for his remarks.

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  1. Ari M. Eden says:

    Wilbon’s a sharp guy and I have found myself agreeing with a good number of his views when I have caught PTI on occasion. However, he’s way off on this one. The Larry Bird comparison is apt and I am positive Gilbert’s reaction would have been the same for a white player if that player had acted the way James did.

    The question you have to ask yourself. If Dan Gilbert were a racist, why would he waste his time owning a basketball team in a league where 80 percent of the players are African American. I’m sure he could get the thrill of winning and acclaim doing something else (i.e. buy a hockey team). Why would he waste his time dealing with a league that promotes acceptance and diversity, when it comes to charitable operations, etc?

    As for Jesse “Heime Town” Jackson, he should look in the mirror before hurling accusations of racism at others, no?

  2. Josh says:

    As harsh as Gilbert was in his comments, Wilbon and Jackson are both way off base to accuse him of having a “slave master mentality.” Gilbert and the city of Cleveland felt betrayed. The fact that LeBron is black has nothing to do with that betrayal.


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