CLEVELAND — Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert didn’t trash LeBron James on his way out of town this time.
Instead, he promised to retire his jersey.
Eight years after he famously criticized James for leaving as a free agent in a letter, Gilbert thanked the superstar for coming back to Cleveland and ending the city’s half-century championship drought. James announced Sunday night that he’s agreed to join the Los Angeles Lakers, a decision that dredged up bad memories for some Cavs fans.
Although James is leaving Cleveland again, Gilbert used the occasion to wish James well, opening his statement by recalling the night in 2016 when James led the Cavs to a Game 7 win in the NBA Finals over Golden State. That victory gave Cleveland its first professional sports title since 1964.
“A championship that united generations of Clevelanders, both living and passed,” Gilbert said. “Virtually anyone with roots in Northeast Ohio paused and felt the memories of the past and the utter joy that the burden of the so-called ‘curse’ was finally a thing of the past. Cleveland, Ohio was the home of a championship team for the first time since 1964. Words do not express the meaning and the feeling this accomplishment brought to the people of Northeast Ohio.”
Gilbert, whose relationship with James improved after the Cavs’ title but was always a source of speculation, went on to credit the four-time MVP for delivering on his promise to make Cleveland a championship city.
It was a striking change in Gilbert, who had written his letter in comic sans font and had called James the “so-called King.” The same night of his letter, Gilbert told The Associated Press he felt James had quit during the 2010 postseason.
“None of this would have happened if LeBron James did not agree to come back home and lead the Cavaliers to the promised land,” Gilbert said. “The entire Cavaliers franchise thanks LeBron for that precious moment and for all of the excitement he delivered as he led our team to four straight NBA Finals appearances.
“LeBron is a family man, first. We wish his kids, his wife Savannah, his mother Gloria, and LeBron himself nothing but the best in the years and decades ahead. LeBron’s connection to Akron, Cleveland and all of Northeast Ohio will most certainly endure as his commitment to the region and his support of many important causes has been impactful to so many kids and families.”
And then, Gilbert said James’ jersey will one day hang from the rafters in Quicken Loans Arena. There was a time when Gilbert refused to consider the possibility.
“LeBron, you came home and delivered the ultimate goal. Nothing but appreciation and gratitude for everything you put into every moment you spent in a Cavaliers uniform. We look forward to the retirement of the famous #23 Cavs jersey one day down the line...”
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