The NBA’s defending champion Golden State Warriors survived two opponents this past Monday night. The first was the Oklahoma City Thunder, who nearly dethroned the Warriors before the champs won three straight games to stagger back into the NBA Finals. The second opponent was less formidable but just as obvious: backlash against the team that has been the darlings of basketball for two seasons.
The pseudonymous basketball writer Bethlehem Shoals articulated this feeling by wondering what it was about the relentless and punishing Thunder that all of a sudden made the magical Warriors feel... evil:
That is something I should be trying to figure out in a Word doc: How that OKC series changed that team's likability— Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) June 1, 2016
With the Warriors set to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Finals tonight, Shoals elaborated on this thought in a GQ article that wonders how the Cavs’ LeBron James—once seen as sports’ evil incarnate—is likely to win in the court of public opinion even if his team likely loses on the court:
What makes these Finals so potentially riveting is that, for the time being, everything surrounding these two teams feels upside down and backward. Wilt Chamberlain’s “nobody roots for Goliath” should apply to LeBron James more than anyone else in the league, and yet somehow the Warriors have succeeded in making him the accessible one. Somehow the team that made everyone fall in love with basketball all over again has one that many now love to hate or have come to only grudgingly respect. Last year, LeBron earned plaudits even in defeat. This time around, once again—improbably—he could come out looking great even if his Cavs come up short. The Warriors, by contrast, could easily win the championship in such a way that still raises questions about their legitimacy.
Handwringing over the Warriors comes in various forms. Ex-NBA players think that the team’s style of play—which deemphasizes height and strength in favor of shooting skill and choreographed passing—would be easily neutralized if only they could be roughed up. Fans of other teams can point to loudmouth leader Draymond Green’s penchant for flailing his limbs in ways that just so happen to connect with his opponents’ most vulnerable body parts.
But recently neutral observers have tended to zero in on someone who never even puts on a uniform: Team co-owner Joe Lacob. Lacob made his money in venture capital, and he has the attendant grating worldview to prove it. A particular on-the-nose example of his politics is that his dogs, John Galt and Howard Roark, are named after two fictional characters created by Ayn Rand. There is also the nagging issue of a New York Times magazine article on the Warriors, in which Lacob attributed the success of his team not to the revolutionary skill of two-time MVP Steph Curry or the generational synergy he has with his teammates, but to Lacob’s own vision as a steward of the organization. Writes author Bruce Schoenfeld:
When I asked him about the previous night’s game, he could hardly contain himself. He boasted that the Warriors are playing in a far more sophisticated fashion than the rest of the league. “We’ve crushed them on the basketball court, and we’re going to for years because of the way we’ve built this team,” he said. But what really set the franchise apart, he said, was the way it operated as a business. “We’re light-years ahead of probably every other team in structure, in planning, in how we’re going to go about things,” he said. “We’re going to be a handful for the rest of the N.B.A. to deal with for a long time.”
Lacob’s specific brand of exceptionalism made for easy schadenfreude when the Thunder had the Warriors on the ropes last week. A common sentiment is captured in this tweet by ESPN’s Dan Le Batard:
Warriors now 1-2 at home since owner Joe Lacob revealed to New York Times Magazine that he's smarter than everyone else.— Dan Le Batard Show (@LeBatardShow) April 6, 2016
As Shoals argues, few tears will be shed if the Warriors—who broke the NBA’s record for most wins in a season—are upset by the Cavs. But if you’re the type of person whose allegiances within sports can be swayed by who ultimately profits off of a team’s success, consider Lacob’s counterpart, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert.
Gilbert has gotten rich off of Quicken Loans, one of the largest mortgage lending companies in America. But, as you could imagine, there’s no real ethical way to become a billionaire in the lending market. Last year, Quicken Loans was sued by the Department of Justice for engaging in a systemic scheme to rip off the Federal Housing Administration by pressuring appraisers to inflate the values of homes that were too broken-down to qualify for FHA mortgages. Via the New York Times:
The Justice Department contends that from September 2007 through December 2011, Quicken knowingly submitted claims — or caused the submission of claims — on hundreds of bad loans, and encouraged an underwriting process in which employees disregarded the program rules and falsely certified that loans met the requirements.
The F.H.A. — which allows borrowers to make down payments of as little as 3.5 percent — has already paid millions of dollars in insurance claims on the improperly underwritten loans, according to the complaint; it said many additional loans had become at least 60 days delinquent and could result in further claims.
But Gilbert has not just ripped off the federal government. There are human victims, too. A 2011 story by the Center for Public Integrity focuses on predatory lending practices employed by Quicken Loans:
Lawsuits from borrowers and ex-employees claim Quicken’s day-to-day tactics are at odds with its squeaky clean image. They accuse the company of using high-pressure salesmanship to target elderly and vulnerable homeowners, as well as misleading borrowers about their loans, and falsifying property appraisals and other information to push through bad deals.
Last February, a state court judge in West Virginia found that Detroit-based Quicken had committed fraud against a homeowner by misleading her about the details of her loan, charging excessive fees, and using an appraisal that exaggerated the value of her home by nearly 300 percent. The judge called the lender’s conduct “unconscionable.”
A lawsuit filed in Detroit, where Quicken Loans is based, alleged the following:
A group of ex-employees, meanwhile, have gone to federal court to accuse Quicken of abusing workers and customers alike. In court papers, former salespeople claim Quicken executives managed by bullying and intimidation, pressuring them to falsify borrowers’ incomes on loan applications and to push overpriced deals on desperate or unwary homeowners.
Managers urged salespeople to boost their commissions by “locking the customer into a higher interest rate, even if they qualified for a lower rate, and rolling hidden fees into the loan,” Michael Pikora, a former loan salesman, said in a sworn statement in a lawsuit involving hundreds of ex-employees who contend Quicken forced them to work unpaid overtime.
Naming your dogs after Ayn Rand characters is bad, but it ain’t that bad.
More reasons to root against Dan Gilbert: