Can LeBron James Forget Cavaliers Owner Dan Gilbert’s Crazy, Comic Sans Letter? Should He?

The stadium scene.
July 9 2014 7:52 PM

“A Shameful Display of Selfishness and Betrayal”

Can LeBron James forget Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s letter? Should he?

LeBron James.
I’m going to take my talents … somewhere.

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Update, July 11, 2014: It’s official: LeBron James is returning to Cleveland.

If Adrian Wojnarowski’s sources are to be believed, and they usually are, LeBron James is now considering just two possible destinations: Cleveland and Miami. Various reports, all sourced anonymously, indicate that James’ “entire inner circle” wants him to go to Cleveland and that there’s a 90 percent chance it will happen. Though it’s fair to sniff at those rumors, as well as the claim by a cupcake shop that LeBron to Cleveland is a “done deal,” the Cavaliers believe they’re in the running for the King’s services. The Cavs made a trade on Wednesday that’s a transparent maneuver to clear salary cap room for James’ return, and they may also be pursuing LeBron’s pals Ray Allen and Mike Miller. And this week, the team also finally removed Dan Gilbert’s unhinged 2010 post-breakup letter from its official website, the one in which he referred to LeBron’s choice to take his talents to South Beach as a “cowardly betrayal.”

Josh Levin Josh Levin

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.

In that Comic Sans–ified missive, you’ll recall, the Cleveland owner described James as callous, narcissistic, and heartless. Gilbert declared that James’ “shameful display of selfishness and betrayal … has shifted our ‘motivation’ to previously unknown and previously never experienced levels.” (It’s unclear why Gilbert put “motivation” in quotes, but then again that’s only about the 43rd strangest thing in this nutso letter.) The Quicken Loans chairman also noted, “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. Just watch.”

Four years hence, it’s clear that Gilbert is as bad at foretelling curses as he is at controlling his temper. For his part, James has apologized several times for departing Cleveland via television special—in 2012, he told Sports Illustrated that in the wake of the Decision, he “had to become a better person”—and has said that he’s no longer mad at Gilbert. While the Cavs owner did write a banal tweet in 2013 saying that LeBron had a bright future, he has seemed less willing to examine his own role in the contretemps. “I would’ve reworded the language in the letter, but I don’t regret sending a letter out to our fan base,” he told the Akron Beacon Journal this February. “People forget the letter was not to LeBron, it was to our fan base.”

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Let’s assume for the sake of argument that James desperately wants to go back to Cleveland. He grew up in Ohio, his wife grew up in Ohio, and he feels he has unfinished business in the Buckeye State. That brings us to the Decision within the Decision: Could LeBron bring himself to work for an owner who called him a selfish turncoat and essentially demanded that he do “right” by Cleveland? An owner whose open letter made James “furious,” and whose petulance led LeBron to declare, “I absolutely know I made the right decision [to leave Cleveland].”

In matters such as these, I often turn to my colleague Emily Yoffe, aka Slate’s Dear Prudence columnist. I asked Prudie how she would advise someone who, in general terms, had a great opportunity to go back home and work for his former company. The only potential pitfall was that this man’s former boss was an enormous jerk who had demeaned him publicly and privately.

“The asshole at work is bad enough,” Prudence told me. “The asshole who’s your boss—that’s really tough.”

Prudie wondered if it might be possible for this employee to move to a satellite office after three months (the D-League’s Canton Charge?), or if maybe the boss was a short-timer. I said there was no chance of either of these things happening. These two would be stuck together for a good long time.

In that case, she said, it would be imperative to bring in a third-party mediator to determine the areas of hurt. (“I didn’t like it when you produced a one-hour special to tell the world you were jilting me.” “I didn’t like it when you claimed I quit in the playoffs. Oh, and it bothered me when you said, ‘It’s time for people to hold these athletes accountable for their actions. Is this the way you raise your children?’ ”) There could also be weekly private check-ins to make sure that the relationship is on track. (“You didn’t say that I betrayed a major American city this week. Thank you.”)

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