Spooky action at a distance. Those are the words ESPN The Magazine used to describe the icy relationship between Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James and the team’s billionaire owner, Dan Gilbert.
They’re certainly no Peyton Manning and Papa John.
Akron’s finest has cagily portrayed their relationship as that of boss/employee, telling a gaggle of reporters before Game 2 of the NBA Finals, “I think he’s the owner of the team. I’m just one of the players. One of the 15 guys. I’m one of the lower guys on the totem pole, so I just do my job. I’m just here to work.” He went one step further at the Cavs’ championship parade. After Gilbert gave a speech about how the 1 million Ohioans in attendance “wouldn’t be here” if the “hometown MVP had not come back to his state,” James barely registered the compliment, giving the owner a quick thumbs-up while refusing to so much as glance in his direction. Regal shade.
Of course, James and Gilbert have a checkered past. When, in 2010, the other No. 23 announced he would be “taking my talents to South Beach” to join the Heat as part of a thoroughly embarrassing ESPN TV special dubbed The Decision, Gilbert stoked the flames consuming James’s jerseys by publishing a letter on the team’s official website that made him sound more Twitter egg than competent employer. Gilbert accused James of a “cowardly betrayal” in choosing sun-drenched Miami over Cleveland, writing: “This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown ‘chosen one’ sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And ‘who’ we would want them to grow up to become.” This is about the game of basketball, by the way.
But, for all the past acrimony this marriage of convenience has endured, the 6-foot-8 living legend and the 5-foot-6 mortgage-lending tycoon must now face their biggest challenge yet: Donald J. Trump.
On Sunday, Business Insider ran a heartfelt op-ed by James endorsing Hillary Clinton for president of the United States. “Only one person running truly understands the struggles of an Akron child born into poverty. And when I think about the kinds of policies and ideas the kids in my foundation need from our government, the choice is clear. That candidate is Hillary Clinton,” wrote James.
The three-time NBA champion has also been a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, and in July, flanked by fellow ballers Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony, opened the ESPY Awards with a poignant “call to action” against police brutality.
“Finally, we must address the violence, of every kind, the African-American community is experiencing in our streets and seeing on our TVs,” wrote James in his Hillary op-ed. “However, I am not a politician, I don’t know everything it will take finally to end the violence. But I do know we need a president who brings us together and keeps us unified. Policies and ideas that divide us more are not the solution. We must all stand together—no matter where we are from or the color of our skin. And Hillary is running on the message of hope and unity that we need.”
By endorsing Hillary, James stands in sharp contrast to Gilbert. The Rock Ventures founder, whose net worth Forbes pegs at $5.2 billion, is a major GOP donor, having contributed $1.25 million to Chris Christie’s America Leads PAC and an additional $350,000 to John Kasich’s New Day for America PAC in 2016, according to Open Secrets. While Kasich is reportedly undecided on the upcoming election and Christie has been reduced to Trump’s McDonald’s-fetching errand boy, Gilbert has allegedly shifted his allegiance to the Republican nominee, Donald Trump.
In July, Gilbert hosted the Republican National Convention at the Cavaliers’ Quicken Loans Arena—a four-day event that saw a room full of angry white people chant “All lives matter!” and “Lock her up!” while their elected leaders painted a portrait of America as a Mad Max-esque dystopian wasteland. The anti-Black Lives Matter message of the convention—“I call it anarchy,” shouted Sheriff David Clarke, the famewhoriest cop in America—stood on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum to James, who reportedly went as far begging Justin Bieber to turn down a $5 million offer to perform at an RNC satellite event in Cleveland that week.
And last week, Gilbert allowed the Republican National Committee to host a secretive, big-ticket Donald Trump fundraiser in his Chrysler House building in downtown Detroit. While initial reports claimed Gilbert helped host the event—which prompted protests against Gilbert, with local activists chanting, “Dan supports the Klan”—his spokesman told the Detroit Free Press that Gilbert was not an event host, but refused to confirm to the paper whether or not Gilbert and his wife attended the pricey pro-Trump soiree.
Gilbert has good reason to not endorse Trump publicly, while providing various buildings he owns in the service of the Republican candidate. He oversees a number of business holdings in Detroit, a city with the highest percentage of black residents in the country at around 84.3 percent, and one where Trump is polling at 0 percent. He also employs several black athletic stars—including James—on his coveted Cleveland Cavaliers’ team, of which he is the majority owner.
And while Trump has claimed to have “a great relationship with the blacks”—he often refers to the African-American community as “the blacks,” as though they are that squatting family from Curb Your Enthusiasm—he has a 40-plus year history of discrimination against the black community, including being sued by the Justice Department in the ’70s for housing discrimination; leading the racially charged war in the ’80s against the Central Park Five; being fined $200,000 in the ’90s for removing black dealers from his Atlantic City casinos at the behest of big-money gamblers; leading the racist birther movement against President Obama in the hopes of discrediting the first black president; and initially refusing to disavow the endorsement of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
Because of all this and more, Trump is polling at around 2 percent among black voters nationally. And he just lost the most famous black athlete in the land.