Dan Gilbert Shows No Remorse For His Criticism of LeBron James

Time will be the ultimate judge of how Dan Gilbert’s famous letter will be received in the annals of Cleveland sports history. If the unthinkable occurs and the Cavaliers actually do win an NBA Championship before LeBron James does, it will be legendary. If the Cavaliers franchise falters in post-LeBron life and the team crumbles to the bottom of the standings for an extended period of time and Dan Gilbert ultimately sells the team, it will be held as a warning sign of future failure that was to yet to come. If it falls somewhere in the middle and Dan Gilbert has a long tenure as the owner of a semi-successful franchise, then it will probably be viewed as a sign of an owner who was trying to rally the troops, so to speak, in the wake of one of the most stunning public rebukes the franchise has ever faced.

Whatever the case may ultimately be, Dan Gilbert is not backing down from his letter nor is he admitting any regret or remorse over his letter. Over the weekend, the Detroit Free Press posted an interview with Gilbert in which they were inquiring about Gilbert’s preference for next owner of the Pistons. At the end of the article, however, they managed to get a couple nice quotes from Gilbert about the Cavaliers and the letter.

When asked if he had any regrets about his criticism of LeBron James, Gilbert responded by saying:

“No, not really. I just expressed what the Cleveland people were feeling. Unless you’re from Cleveland and experienced what they have experienced since 1964, it’s hard for the rest of the country to grasp.”

I was happy to see that quote from Gilbert because he vocalized the point I made when he initially faced the wave of criticism for his letter the day after he posted it. That point being, that the letter wasn’t for the rest of the country. The letter wasn’t to LeBron and it wasn’t to any of the talking heads who blasted him for sending it out. No, the letter was to Cavs fans. It was a sign that Gilbert was truly trying to become “one of us” and it served as the best form of reassurance he could have possibly given us at that moment in time.

Sure, he could have given us a stale and cookie-cutter type letter in which he thanked LeBron for the last 7 years and wished him well. He would have saved face from the national media, but the gesture would have come across as lethargic and hollow in the hearts and minds of the people who matter most to Gilbert: his customers – the fine folks of Ohio and Cavalier fans across the globe.

That’s the point Gilbert is making here, and it’s the point that was lost to the national media who criticized him for it. The point being, you just don’t get it. Unless you’ve experienced what this life of heartache after heartache without ever being given even the slightest reprieve from it, you just couldn’t possibly understand what LeBron’s public humiliation of Cavs fans meant to us. And that is precisely why Dan Gilbert has no regrets about it. He gets it.

I’m not going to sit here and hail Dan Gilbert as Cleveland’s greatest sports owner of all time just yet or anything. He still has a lot of work to avoid following in Larry Dolan’s footsteps in overseeing a once successful franchise fall into annual disappointment and non-existent attendance numbers. Instead, I’m just going to point out that it’s refreshing in this town to have an owner willing to be so public and who can so easily speak to the hearts of his team’s fans. It’s an art form the other two owners in Cleveland have yet to grasp.

If Gilbert wants to see his team succeed and avoid similar pitfalls that have ensnared the Browns and Indians, he knows he needs to make sure the Cavaliers begin building, and build the right way. We can disagree on what the best method of rebuilding should be, but it’s good to know that here, too, Gilbert at least sounds like he has a plan:

“We think it’s a blessing in disguise; we think we’re going to focus now on the team approach and not have everything that we do be focused on one man’s decision”…”In five years we didn’t win a championship (with James), so it didn’t work. So now we’re going to do it the right way”…”The only people who brag about ‘best record in the league’ are the ones that don’t win the championship.”

Right now it’s just lip service, but in the next month the Cavaliers will begin working on this rebuilding process and putting the puzzle pieces back to together the right way.

I’m not totally surprised that Gilbert isn’t backing down from his comments. On the one hand, you would think in a private moment of honesty, Gilbert would admit that it’s silly to think the Cavaliers will actually win a Championship before LeBron does. However, that’s just not the way ultra-successful people think. Most ultra-successful people believe in the power of positive thought. It’s similar to the reason the philosophy of Manifest Destiny once took hold in this country. When people are routinely successful in life and the decisions they make tend to work in their favor, it’s easy for them to begin to believe they are the side of providence.

In a similar manner, then, Dan Gilbert may actually believe in his heart that the Cavaliers were in the right and LeBron was in the wrong, and therefore time will bear out the consequences, both good and bad, for that decision to all parties involved. In that sense, he probably feels that the Cavaliers truly will succeed by going back to his basic core principles that have allowed him to succeed in his other ventures in life.

The flip side to that, of course, is that the decision was made by LeBron to part ways, not Dan Gilbert. If Dan Gilbert truly believes the Cavaliers’ new way of life is the “right way”, then why did he still pursue LeBron James? If building as a team is the right way to do things, then why did he want to continue to build around the singularity that is LeBron James?

There’s really no easy answer. Of course Gilbert wasn’t going to just voluntarily part ways with LeBron and not even attempt to re-sign him. Can you imagine the fallout and criticism he would have faced had he chosen that method? For many of us, we feel like a veil has been lifted this summer. It is equal parts depressing and rejuvenating. I get the sense that Dan Gilbert is with us on that point. He may still be disappointed in losing LeBron, but he feels the same relief in no longer having to deal with the LeBron James that has now been exposed to the general public.

I think almost all of us would still go back and have LeBron stay if it were up to us. I’m sure Gilbert would as well. We can only work with the information that we now know, and it’s now evident that LeBron never really had any desire to be in Cleveland. So now we must move on and try to find a superstar who is willing to play in Cleveland. It may not be easy, but I’m glad the Cavaliers have an owner who gets it and seems to be up for the challenge.

  • cle

    i love Gilbert, and have always hated basketball…. i think he should buy the Tribe.

  • JK

    I <3 D.G.

  • 5KMD

    Of everything that went down this summer, I think the craziest is the people giving Gilbert crap for blasting LBJ by asking why he didn’t get rid of him sooner.

    He was completely trapped. Even if he felt like LBJ was ruining the organiztion, there’s is no way you can get rid of him. No way. LBJ had to be the one to make the break.

  • Harv 21

    I will be in the minority here.

    I don’t need the owner to feel my pain. I need the owner to win. If the letter didn’t promote that, I don’t want it any more than having Shapiro “listen” to me via social media. The Dolans touted being lifelong tribe fans when they purchased, and maybe they overpaid because of that. Dick Jacobs was a hard-hearted business man, disinterested in my pain, who wrung every last cent out of his investment and then sold high to the poor saps. WHich owner do I respect and thank?

    Btw, I don’t believe Gilbert when he now says he wrote it to give voice to us. That letter reeks of spur of the moment anger from a self-made guy who put up with truckloads of crap from a spoiled player he had been genuflecting to, and his thank you was silence followed by an internationally televised “screw you, you are not worthy of me.” That’s not what self-made billionaires react well to.

  • SxDx

    I agree with 5K, he was trapped. He could have traded LeBron James at the beginning of last season. But imagine the backlash from the fans? Gilbert would instantly be vilified as the man who couldnt keep the hometown superstar happy, and traded him away. In a heartbeat he would have become Larry Dolan II. LeBron would also have been let off the hook, he could have turned around and said “LeBron wanted to stay in Cleveland, but I guess Cleveland didnt want LeBron”. He had no choice but to let it play out and hope that he could somehow convince LeBron to stay in Cleveland.

  • http://www.60bpm.com/ Robbie

    Yeah, I agree with Harv 21. It looks like a bit of revisionist history on Gilbert’s part. I’m glad he said what he said, even if it was a bit crazy, but I think he was just pissed and spouted-off about it without fully considering what he was doing. I like the passion, but saying you’re going to win a championship before The Heat?

  • mike

    i do believe Dan Gilbert already back-tracked on the prediction of winning a championship before the heat. i dont have a link or anything but i know i read it. the part gilbert is standing firm on is where he called out lebron as being cowardly, that cleveland fans deserved better, etc.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew

    Don’t mistake Gilbert’s words for mine. Gilbert didn’t say he wrote it to give a voice to the fans. That’s just my interpretation of what he said. Of course Gilbert was angry when LeBron did The Decision. Weren’t you? Weren’t all of us? None of us lost as much as Gilbert did, though, and yet he still worded the letter in a way that was representative of the fans that night, and he has refused to back down from it no matter how much criticism he gets for it. Maybe you don’t appreciate that, and that’s fine, but I certainly do.

  • mike

    any word on lebron’s elbow injury? i saw that he has been wearing a phantom arm sling all summer. did he undergo phantom treatment as well?

  • Bill


    You do need the owner to feel your pain. We’re all in the same boat here, and what the majority needs to hear is something behind which they can rally. Being a hard-hearted businessman and relating to your fan base are not mutually exclusive endeavors. Gilbert is a businessman, and if this venture becomes unsustainable, he’ll part ways with it. If he can keep public opinion in favor of the Cavs, it’ll go a long way towards a return to success. That’s something the Indians haven’t been able to do consistently, and poor attendance becomes a downward spiral.

    And I don’t get the serious contempt for Dolan vs. “respect and thanks” for Jacobs. Compare the first 8 years of each regime and tell me which one looks better. Jacobs did well as an owner, but he was also a huge benefactor of the perfect storm in the mid- to late-90s: a maturing young core of talent, a brand new stadium (in which, I admit, he played a big role), and the Browns’ move.

  • Harv 21

    Andrew: I guess on some level it’s nice if he cares, but again, I primarily need my owner to set up an org that wins. He does not understand me, and I don’t need him to. He was in Detroit while I’ve been here being told to believe in Keith Lee, John Lambert, Mel Turpin, World B. Free, Trajan Langdon, and Chris Mihm, not to mention both other teams’ rosters of infamy. So beyond hand-patting and clucking, or even any written form of primal scream therapy. Don’t need my pain to be an owners’ issue. Just need Dan to work the problem and win, that’s all. Then we’ll be good.

  • Shamrock

    Poor Dan Gilbert one day he’ll get it, I think. If he didn’t know basketball was a team sport then he really is more of a fan then I thought. It’s a shame but I don’t see and haven’t seen anything done to make me think the Cavaliers won’t bottom out just like the Browns and Indians. It starts at the top of the organization and works down. Gilbert needs to put the “fandom” stuff away and concentrate on his business called the Cavaliers. The problem is it’s not really a business it’s more of a hobby so I can’t wait for what I hope will be a work stoppage. The owners and players need a serious reality check.

  • Jackson

    Thing is, NBA basketball is NOT a team sport. You need a superstar to win a Title. Other than the Rip Hamilton Pistons, name one team to win a title that didn’t have a true superstar. There are all sorts of teams that play “good team ball”, but it doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t have a Jordan/Magic/Kobe/Duncan, etc…

  • Harv 21

    Bill: “keeping public opinion in favor of Cavs” can last just a moment if they don’t win. It ain’t going to make you or me buy season packages if they stink.

    No time to engage you in detail about first 8 year comparison of each regime or all the factors that affected each. But generally, Jacobs started with a shambles, hired Hank Peters to build from inside (farm system) out and themselves orchestrated the new stadium that funded their best success. Other mid-market owners did not thrive like this in the same period. The Dolans started at the top with seats filled, overpaid and have had little foresight or creativity in reacting to their environment. Once the Jacobs era players were gone, so were the fans. Dog day at the park, anyone?

    [yes, the history is more nuanced, but I think this is generally true and no time right now to expound].

  • Word

    Dan Gilbert for Mayor of Cleveland! Gee, that doesn’t sound so far fetched. I mean Frank Jackson? Really, Frank Jackson? Ugh!

  • Illmatic8

    Remember when Gilbert said that LeBron quit in the Orlando playoff series? Gilbert is a great owner, but he clearly knows nothing about basketball if he felt that.

  • Shamrock

    @13 All of those guys you named didn’t come close to doing it by themselves. Jordan had Pippen and to a lesser degree BJ Scott then he had Rodman. Magic had Kareem, Worthy, Scott and others. Kobe had Shaq then he had Gasol, Odom, Bynum and others. Duncan had Robinson then he had Ginobli, Parker and others. Most importantly those players all had pretty good head coaches.

  • Cavalette23

    I’m With Gilbert!

  • sealedhuman

    I personally loved Gilbert’s reaction to LBJ. It would have been perfect if he had just left out the title promise and simply promised to tirelessly work toward one. That said, I understand why some Cavs fans don’t agree with the letter. I’m also with Gilbert.

    Thankfully, being an invested fan and an invested businessman are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I could argue that one informs and supports the other. There is nothing like financial investment to make someone care about something.

  • HaveaHeart

    Gilbert spoke his mind. The thoughts he published that infamous night echoed the feelings of every Cleveland Cavalier fan. Gilbert doesn’t do anything without thinking it through. My impression of Dan is, he’s meticulous, smart and passionate. Dan knew full well what he was doing when he put out that letter. Although it wasn’t rash, it was emotional. When I read it, I knew it came from an owner who cared. Dolan and Lerner need to take notes, because they don’t have that kind of passion for winning. In a nutshell with Gilbert it is about taking on the challenges to create a championship team. with other two they run a “Successful” business first then worry about winning games later.

    Thank you for the letter Dan. We will miss LeBron, but losing you as an owner, would be far more devastating.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com Cleveland Frowns

    I see the point in speaking to Cleveland fans, but the real shame in the letter was in the way it revealed a glaring lack of leadership on the part of the Cavs front office during LeBron’s time here; the way the franchise constantly bent over for LeBron, to call him out for not acting right only after he left. “Wait till you all hear what a jerk this guy was here!” I’d have gone and played for Pat Riley, too, probably especially if I’d never had a dad. A respectable leader/father figure, not a carpetbagger in for a money grab.

  • Ernesto Fuentes

    I think Gilbert is full of crap, didn’t everybody see what LB did to Micky Arison after everything he gave him and Pat Riley not to mention the fans and all they did was wish him good luck.But now that he has LB, he’s showing who he really his. Another racists SOB with money and power and to be forgiven and given another chance because we all make mistakes. From LB mouth, but this crucify Sterling he doesn’t deserve another chance. Yeah right. Hypocrites!