Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert accused LeBron James of "cowardly betrayal," and said the two-time NBA most valuable player "quit" during the playoffs, just minutes after the player decided he'll join the Miami Heat.
Gilbert, who posted a letter to Cavaliers fans on the team's website shortly after James announced in a nationally televised show that he planned to sign with Miami, told The Associated Press late Thursday night that he feels "personally betrayed" by James and that it's "accountability time."
In a phone interview with the AP, Gilbert said "people have covered up for [James] for way too long. Tonight we saw who he really is."
Gilbert feels James quit on the Cavs during their second-round series against the Boston Celtics, who rallied from a 2-1 deficit to eliminate Cleveland.
"He quit," Gilbert said. "Not just in Game 5, but in Games 2, 4 and 6. Watch the tape. The Boston series was unlike anything in the history of sports for a superstar."
The Cavaliers were beaten by 32 points in Game 5. During the game, James appeared distracted and uninterested, often glaring at Cleveland's coaches as the Cavs tried to foul to get back into the game in the second half. James also made some puzzling postgame comments, saying he had "spoiled" people with his play over seven seasons.
Gilbert also said he believes James quit on the Cavs in Game 6 of their series in 2009 against Orlando.
"Go back and look at the tape," he said. "How many shots did he take?"
'Slap in the face to this city'
Gilbert, who has owned the Cavs for five years, said he was most disappointed by James' behaviour in the months leading up to the superstar's announcement that he is going to Miami to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Gilbert said James never returned a single phone message or text since the end of the season and that the Cavs were not informed of James' decision until he went on the air.
Across the street from Quicken Loans Arena, the facility named after the business Gilbert founded, fans gathered around the bar at Harry Buffalo's buried their heads in their hands. When they looked up, their eyes were wet with tears.
"Turn it off," someone yelled.
Some fans tried to console Earl Mauldin, who was slumped over the bar hiding his face.
"I think it was a slap in the face to this city, who had supported him and been behind him since he was in high school," said Mauldin, who looked disgusted. "To go on national TV and spit in our face like that is very, very, very wrong."
James has given people here something to root for, a modicum of proof that Cleveland can rise above the mess it's found itself in during a very lousy decade. The foreclosure crisis. The economic collapse. The dying auto industry. Through it all, this city has had one thing nobody else could touch: LeBron James, homegrown hero, global superstar.
"He kept us in the dark all the way up till the end," said Gary Hunter, who came to watch the announcement at Harry Buffalo's.
Clevelanders pulled out all the stops
"What do we look like, begging somebody to stay for us? If you're gonna be here, you're gonna be here. But if you're not, then just be gone. But you could've given us the decency of letting us know before you let the national media know. And the world."
James' rejection was all the more stinging after weeks in which Clevelanders pulled out all the stops to try to keep him here. They penned songs about The King and danced in shopping malls in his honor. When he met with the teams trying to woo him last week, faithful fans stood outside holding signs bearing one simple word: "Home."
"I hope Mr. Gilbert has a good plan set up," said Frank Borally, owner of the Purple Shamrock bar, which had promised to pick up patrons' food tabs if James had chosen to stay with the Cavs. "But we need a miracle."
What remains to be seen is how badly his departure will hurt the city's economy.
Each home game during the regular season nets about $3.7 million, including ticket sales, souvenirs, food and hotel bookings, said Tamera Brown, vice-president of marketing for Positively Cleveland, a convention and visitors bureau that promotes city tourism. Multiplied by 41 home games, that's more than $150 million.
Obviously, much of that will stay in town even if James leaves. How much depends largely on how well the Cavaliers perform, but James has his own special fan base because of his two-time MVP status and his roots in nearby Akron.
But it's too soon to think about next season. For the moment, people who grew up adoring James are trying to come to grips with the loss of their star.
"If you decided that you wanted to go to play in Miami," Mauldin said, shaking his head, "you could've did it in private."
Gilbert's letter to fans
Dear Cleveland, All Of Northeast Ohio and Cleveland Cavaliers Supporters Wherever You May Be Tonight;
As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier.
This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his "decision" unlike anything ever "witnessed" in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.
Clearly, this is bitterly disappointing to all of us.
The good news is that the ownership team and the rest of the hard-working, loyal, and driven staff over here at your hometown Cavaliers have not betrayed you nor NEVER will betray you.
There is so much more to tell you about the events of the recent past and our more than exciting future. Over the next several days and weeks, we will be communicating much of that to you.
You simply don't deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.
You have given so much and deserve so much more.
In the meantime, I want to make one statement to you tonight:
"I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE"
You can take it to the bank.
If you thought we were motivated before tonight to bring the hardware to Cleveland, I can tell you that this shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own has shifted our "motivation" to previously unknown and previously never experienced levels.
Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there.
Sorry, but that's simply not how it works.
This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown "chosen one" 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.
But the good news is that this heartless and callous action can only serve as the antidote to the so-called "curse" on Cleveland, Ohio.
The self-declared former "King" will be taking the "curse" with him down south. And until he does "right" by Cleveland and Ohio, James (and the town where he plays) will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma.
Sleep well, Cleveland.
Tomorrow is a new and much brighter day....
I PROMISE you that our energy, focus, capital, knowledge and experience will be directed at one thing and one thing only:
DELIVERING YOU the championship you have long deserved and is long overdue....
Dan Gilbert Majority Owner Cleveland Cavaliers