Dan Gilbert, the native Detroiter who owns Livonia-based Quicken Loans, as well as the Cavaliers, sent the sports world reeling Friday following a stunning verbal assault against LeBron James, the superstar who bolted Cleveland for a free-agent contract with Miami.
Gilbert's words, released as part of a Web site letter to Cavaliers fans late Thursday night, were so bitter and inflammatory, they threatened to upstage the very announcement that unleashed Gilbert's ire: James' decision to take his sublime talents to another town and team.
There were charges by Gilbert that James "quit" in this year's playoff loss to Boston; that he had engaged in a "cowardly betrayal" of Cleveland and its fans; that he had crafted a "narcissistic, self-promotional build-up" to his announcement that was "unlike anything ever witnessed in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment."
Gilbert, though, had hoped until the announcement to extend James' seven-year reign as Cleveland's franchise megastar. The speed with which Gilbert turned on James, and the ferocity of his intensely statements, were what left so many aghast Friday.
"(Gilbert) sounds like a sore loser," former news anchor Bill Bonds said. "I frankly could care less where James plays. Is he that important to American society? Maybe what Gilbert is proving is that money is more important to him than it is to LeBron James."
Neither Gilbert nor staffers at Quicken Loans responded to Detroit News requests Friday for an interview with the owner and Michigan State graduate who last month missed on a $30-million bid to hire Spartans coach Tom Izzo as the Cavaliers coach.
Gilbert's wrath followed a long, exhausting vigil by the Cavaliers, and much of the NBA, as James pondered lavish free-agent offers from teams hoping to land a 25-year-old virtuoso. His decision was announced during a prime-time ESPN production Thursday, an event both theatrical and grandiose, and a parallel to the weekslong anticipation that hovered over James and his eventual choice.
Among those stunned by Gilbert's outburst was Spencer Haywood, a late 1960s star at Detroit Pershing High and the University of Detroit, who turned pro after his sophomore year and joined the NBA as a much-publicized free agent after courts decided in his favor in a landmark anti-trust case in 1970.
Haywood said, with a dark chuckle, he could appreciate Gilbert's rage.
"This is like your daughter telling you, 'I'm going to quit basketball,' " Haywood said, " 'and, by the way, I'm running away from home, too.' "
Jerry Stackhouse, the former Pistons guard who last season played for the Bucks, said Gilbert's outburst was understandable but hypocritical.
Stackhouse's experience is that "players can get traded and moved all around and nothing is said. Now a player has the leverage and he goes nuts.
"I don't think he (James) owed it to Dan Gilbert or anybody," Stackhouse said. "It's kind of weird how much he loved LeBron James all these years, and then (James) decides to not come back and (Gilbert) has all this disdain for him.
"Now that really tells you this is a business."
Words won't affect Cavs
There was speculation Friday that Gilbert's verbal artillery could make it difficult for the Cavaliers to attract future free agents, which will be one necessary option for a club no longer in possession of the star known as "King James."
"If I was him I wouldn't have done it that way, but he has every right to do it," former NBA coach and current ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said. "A player doesn't play for an owner. It's not like you have everyday contact. You play for the coach. Had Byron Scott said that, it may have had a more lasting impact."
Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant was asked during a Friday news conference if he feared Gilbert's words would make his job tougher.
"Dan's owned the team for five years," Grant said. "I think he's earned the right to voice his opinion."
Scott, who was hired as the Cavaliers coach after Izzo declined Gilbert's offer, said: "An owner acting that way, he's showing a lot of passion for the city -- a lot of passion for the organization. I thought he was speaking from his heart."
Greg Kelser, the former Pistons player and Michigan State All-American, tended to agree with the Cavaliers brass.
"I don't think (the fallout) will have a lasting effect because money talks," Kelser said. "You have to understand that Dan Gilbert will be coming at them (free agents) with his best and the most charming sales pitch he can come up with.
"I don't think this is going to have a lasting effect on the Cavaliers. The absence of LeBron James might, but (Gilbert's) words won't."
James, an Akron native, had been with the Cavaliers since 2003, when he was taken No. 1 in the draft out of high school. Gilbert bought the Cavaliers in 2005, and his team, behind James, reached the NBA Finals in 2007, losing to the Spurs. But even with James being named the NBA's MVP the past two seasons, the Cavaliers have been thwarted in their bid to deliver a title to a city bruised by tough times, and even tougher luck through the years with its star-crossed pro teams. The frustration, followed by Thursday's crushing news, was apparently enough to send Gilbert on his tirade.
"It's not about him leaving," Gilbert wrote. "It's the disrespect. It's time for people to hold these athletes accountable for their actions. Is this the way you raise your children? I've been holding this all in for a long time."
n a phone conversation later with the Associated Press, Gilbert said of James: "He has gotten a free pass. People have covered up for him for way too long. Tonight we saw who he really is."
Stackhouse all but shook his head Friday at a tantrum he believed Gilbert already regretted.
"It's human nature to be mad during the heat of the moment," Stackhouse said. "Sometimes, it's good to take a shower and then do an interview.
"You just lost your cash cow," Stackhouse said, speaking of Gilbert's disposition on Thursday night. "That's going to hurt anybody.
"Hopefully, he comes back and apologizes, and acknowledges that he made a mistake."