Quietly I enter Dan Gilbert’s office and ease into a corner to watch him stare at a massive wall map of the United States. Every few seconds he tightens arms locked across his chest and juts his jaw at various targets – NBA cities across the land. LeBron James and general manager Koby Altman stand several paces behind the billionaire who gets richer but not taller every day.
James leans to Altman’s ear and whispers, “Reminds me of Mussolini.”
“I heard that,” says Gilbert, spinning around.
“Hope you’ve got some great ideas, Chief,” says the GM.
“Despite my team hanging on the precipice, I’m going to build another champion.”
“We wouldn’t be losing all these games and playing old-man defense if you hadn’t traded Kyrie Irving,” James says.
“He demanded I trade him.”
“I told you then and remind you now that he still had two years on his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers,” says James. “That’s why I insisted you keep him.”
“You can’t insist anything with me. I’m your owner.”
“I said tell him to either show up for training camp or sit out and forfeit twenty million bucks a year,” James says.
“Koby and I had a plan last summer.”
“A plan to trade one of the best and most dynamic players in the league for Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, about ten cents on the dollar.”
“Hold it, LeBron,” says Altman. “We also get Brooklyn’s first round pick.”
James steps away from Altman, pointing an index finger at him and another at Gilbert, and says, “You two listen good. Either do something great or I’m definitely out of Cleveland after this season. Way we’re going, we may not even make the playoffs.”
“LeBron,” says Gilbert, “you know I have unqualified respect for your skills despite the fact you have the worst plus-minus rating in the league since Santa Claus rode away.”
“You won’t get anything if I leave.”
“We’d clear a lot of cap space and enhance our options in free agency,” Gilbert says.
“A player like me appears once a generation. No free agent will ever replace me in Cleveland.”
“Sometimes I’d like to smack your arrogant face,” says Gilbert.
“Go for it, peewee.”
Gilbert raises his dukes and wades in, bobbing and weaving, and left hooks James’ liver, ducks a counter right, and roundhouse rights the cager’s jaw, staggering him and leaving him prone to a mighty left hook, hurled like a lightweight Joe Frazier, that sends James fanny first to the floor. Then Gilbert misses a snap kick aimed at the jaw, and James staggers up, charges and buries his head in the owner’s chest, driving him to the floor and landing on him. Altman shouts, “That’ll be enough, boys,” and drags the combatants apart before helping them stand. He stays between them, swiveling head and eyes from one to the other and back.
Moving forward fast, I’m snapping photos with my cell phone when Gilbert shouts, “Hey,” and rushes me, doubtless planning another bombardment, but from my pants pocket I retrieve a small but devastating can of Sleeperizer Spray and unload a blast into the owner’s nose and spin to spray LeBron’s nostrils and those of Koby Altman. In seconds all three are comatose, and from another pocket I retrieve a black board marker and step to the huge wall map of the United States and write: “Trade disenchanted and disappointing Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye, and your first round pick, to the Lakers for young athletic studs Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance, set up a three-way trade with Sacramento and Utah to get rid of unhappy, old, and/or injured Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose, and Iman Shumpert while receiving big wing Rodney Hood and healthy veteran George Hill, and ship sagging star Dwyane Wade back to his exotic mansion in Miami.”
LeBron James is the first to awaken, and I eagerly point to the board. As the haze clears he studies my directive and finally says, “Man, I’d love that but no way those teams would do it, would they?”