Gilbert won’t back down from remarks

Published 4:55 am Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND — Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert isn’t taking back one word about LeBron James — or as he called him, “the player that left.”

Gilbert, who harshly criticized James after the two-time MVP announced he was leaving as a free agent this summer, said Wednesday night before Cleveland’s season opener that he doesn’t regret calling out the superstar, now with the Miami Heat.

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Shortly after James announced he was leaving, Gilbert fired off an angry letter to Cleveland’s fans vilifying James. He called him “narcissistic” and accused him of “cowardly behavior.”

“I don’t regret it,” said Gilbert, who made similar comments earlier in the day on WKNR radio. “That letter was to the fans and the supporters of the Cavaliers and it wasn’t to the player that left, it wasn’t to the rest of the world. It wasn’t to anybody but them. I wanted them to understand not only how I felt but how everyone felt in the entire organization.”

Not long after posting the infamous letter on the Cavs’ team website, Gilbert told The Associated Press that he felt James quit during last season’s playoffs against Boston.

Gilbert — whose comments drew a $100,000 fine from Commissioner David Stern — didn’t take back those remarks, either.

“There are some of the things everybody has to make their own personal judgment on,” Gilbert said. “It’s a subjective judgment when you watch a game or watch a tape. You make those kinds of judgments. I’d rather not answer directly. I’d really rather not comment what my feelings are any more, but everybody has to make their own decisions on that.”

Gilbert has taken a low profile since July, when James left the Cavs after seven seasons. James’ decision caught Gilbert by surprise because in the days leading up to his announcement, the 25-year-old maintained re-signing with Cleveland was still a possibility.

Gilbert felt betrayed by James and was upset that the All-Star forward did not communicate his intentions to the team until an hour-long TV special to announce his decision was already on the air.

In his letter to Cleveland fans, Gilbert not only ripped James but he guaranteed his team would win a championship before his former player.

He still believes that’s possible.

“You never know,” he said. “Look, these things will play themselves out and we’ll see what happens. It was certainly something that put more emphasis on the future and put more pressure on everyone here to say, ’Hey, let’s deliver as smart and efficiently as we possibly can.’ We’ll see what happens.”

In the days after James’ departure, Gilbert was accused of coddling and enabling the star. Critics said the preferential treatment given to James and his inner circle of friends empowered them into thinking they could get away with anything.

Gilbert said there are many misconceptions about what went on.

“There’s a lot of nonsense that LeBron was asking for all these things and doing all these things and having all these privileges,” said Gilbert, who acknowledged watching James’ debut with the Heat on Tuesday night. “It’s simply not true. None of that stuff happened, none of his friends flew on the plane. It’s simply not true.

“In respect to him, he didn’t ask for huge material things. There’s some people that had some tickets before we got here, which we honored the five years we were here, but there really wasn’t that much stuff. People write about this in the big-picture sense, but you never hear what the details are because there aren’t any.”

Among his many accomplishments with Cleveland, James became the leading scorer in franchise history and carried the Cavs to their only NBA finals appearance in 2007. It’s assumed that some day James will have his jersey retired by the team and hung from the rafters of Quicken Loans Arena along with those of Austin Carr, Mark Price, Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty and others.

Gilbert sidestepped a question as to whether he would ever honor James by retiring his No. 23.

“We haven’t even had that discussion on any player,” Gilbert said. “I would assume that it’s something you would do when a player retires. It’s something that we haven’t addressed. I’m sure it will come up and as it comes up, we’ll address it.”