Few people in the annals of sports parted on icier terms than LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert four years ago.
The Quicken Loans owner took his frustration and anger out in a stinging letter, one that was posted in the internet — and drew a $100,000 fine from former commissioner David Stern — when James left town for Miami in July 2010. Maybe the feelings were never as acrimonious as they seemed, because James said a month after “The Decision” that he could envision returning to his home state, but the two men needed to clear the air before James could return to the Cavs.
“We had five great years together and one terrible night,” Gilbert told James (according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo on Friday afternoon). “I told him how sorry I was, expressed regret for how that night went and how I let all the emotion and passion for situation carry me away. I told him I wish had never done it, that I wish I could take it back.”
James confessed to a regret, too, over the way in which he left. James spoke of that in his “I’m Coming Home” announcement on SI.com, telling Lee Jenkins:
I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.
To make the move I needed the support of my wife and my mom, who can be very tough. The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned — seeing all that was hard for them. My emotions were more mixed. It was easy to say, “OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.” But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?
In the end, Gilbert, who sat down with James, agent Rich Paul and business manager Maverick Carter, acknowledged that “it was more comfortable than I actually thought it would be. They made it easy for me.”