LeBron James’ initial break up with the city of Cleveland — and specifically Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert — was as ugly as they come.
It seems like forever ago at this point, especially because “King James” is actually back with the Cavs now, but James’ primetime announcement that he was “taking his talents” to South Beach was one of the more controversial free agency moves of his era of basketball.
The funny thing is, it’s not that he didn’t have the right to go to Miami, though. James played out his contract in Cleveland and felt he could have a better opportunity elsewhere, which obviously was the case with the Heat.
James was fully within his rights to choose to leave Cleveland. The way he did it, in a primetime hour block on ESPN, may have been questionable, but he still had complete freedom and autonomy to make the move.
That didn’t stop Gilbert from trashing him at the time in a now-infamous letter, something he had to walk back when trying to get James to come back to Cleveland a few seasons later. That letter and the sentiment Gilbert expressed towards James, came up recently in a conversation between James and GQ magazine. Though it did happen a long time ago, James expressed that he still thinks about it from time-to-time, and he even felt there were some racial undertones in what Gilbert said.
Here’s James’ explanation when asked if he felt the letter was racial:
“Um, I did. I did. It was another conversation I had to have with my kids. It was unfortunate, because I believed in my heart that I had gave that city and that owner, at that point in time, everything that I had. Unfortunately, I felt like, at that point in time, as an organization, we could not bring in enough talent to help us get to what my vision was. A lot of people say they want to win, but they really don’t know how hard it takes, or a lot of people don’t have the vision. So, you know, I don’t really like to go back on that letter, but it pops in my head a few times here, a few times there. I mean, it’s just human nature. I think that had a lot to do with race at that time, too, and that was another opportunity for me to kind of just sit back and say, ‘Okay, well, how can we get better? How can we get better? How can I get better?’ And if it happens again, then you’re able to have an even more positive outlook on it. It wasn’t the notion of I wanted to do it my way. It was the notion of I’m gonna play this game, and I’m gonna prepare myself so damn hard that when I decide to do something off the court, I want to be able to do it because I’ve paid my dues.”
The most notable thing about these comments, other than the fact that James did feel Gilbert was responding with a racial undertone, is the fact that Gilbert is once again the man in charge of James’ contract — so he is essentially saying this about his boss.
Of course, James is arguably above Gilbert in influence when it comes to his importance to the Cavaliers, but the point can’t be forgotten that Gilbert is the man who signs James’ checks. Does that give him literal ownership over James? Of course not. Back when Gilbert wrote the letter, though, it could be perceived that the Cavaliers’ owner felt that way — at least by James.
Remember, he called James leaving a “shocking act of disloyalty“. He even took on LeBron as a role model, saying that his decision “sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And ‘who’ we would want them to grow-up to become.”
LeBron is under contract in Cleveland until after the 2018-19 season, when he once again becomes a free agent.