Since superstar LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Los Angeles Lakers this past summer, the Cavs have been in a steep nose dive. Most recently, former assistant coach James Boylan (63 years old) filed an age discrimination suit in Ohio county court after the Cavs exercised their right not to extend Boylan’s contract after the 2017-18 season. Given his proven record—4 NBA finals appearances in the last 4 years—Boylan argues that his contract, which ended on July 1, should have been renewed.
Boylan has seen his fair share of the NBA. His first stint as an assistant coach began in 1992 with the Cavs, where he stayed for the next four years. He bounced around, working as an assistant coach for the Phoenix Suns, Vancouver Grizzlies, Atlantic Blackhawks, and Chicago Bulls, before eventually finding a home with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2007, where he stayed before going back to the Cavs in 2013.
But at the end of the 2017-18 season, after yet-another NBA finals appearance, the Cavaliers decided not to extend Boylan’s contract. On June 17, Boylan received the news via a voicemail left by then-head coach Tyronn Lue, who was fired on October 28 after the Cavaliers’ 0-6 start. In the voicemail, Lue allegedly stated that Koby Altman, the Cavaliers’ general manager, and Dan Gilbert, the Cavaliers’ principal owner wanted “to go younger in that position and, you know, find somebody who’s a grinder and younger in that position.” Boylan’s claim is further supported by the fact that Damon Jones (42 years old) replaced him as assistant coach. The Cavaliers also retained all assistant coaches between the ages of 29-45 and hired or promoted Terry Nooner (40), Mike Gerrity (32), and Dan Geriot (29) after Boylan’s firing.
In response, the Cavaliers’ general counsel, Jason Hillman, has characterized the allegations as baseless, outrageous, and “an opportunistically-timed effort at a shameless cash grab,” because the termination of Boylan’s contract was “a right that was fully and completely … executed in accordance with terms of [his] contract.” Hillman revealed that Boylan allegedly demanded $6.174 million before filing suit, in hopes to pressure the Cavaliers organization into a settlement. Hillman maintains that the Cavaliers intend to fight the suit and plan to “seek immediate dismissal of this disappointing, unwarranted and baseless claim.”
As they should.
The Cavaliers have had a tumultuous season. They’re 1-11. They’re on their sixth coach in nine years. The drama surrounding their organization has potentially challenged the legitimacy of their brand, deterring potential, serious coaching candidates. It may well be in the Cavaliers’ interest to pay Boylan the $25,000 he seeks and move on from this chaotic chapter of their history.
Jess Hui is a Sports and Entertainment Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2021).