When Dan Gilbert bought the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2005, he called LeBron James "a great guy who just wants to win."
Today, Gilbert called the superstar something else: "A quitter." And that's just for starters.
Gilbert is fuming. Within minutes of James' announcement that he will leave Cleveland to play for the Miami Heat, Gilbert sent an open letter to Cavs fans.
He called James' decision a "heartless and callous action," a "shocking act of disloyalty," and a "shameful display of selfishness and betrayal." The only thing missing from Gilbert's missive was a footnote saying "strong letter to follow."
Later, Gilbert told the Associated Press that "accountability time" has come for James. Gilbert said James "quit" during several games of the second round of the NBA playoffs against the Boston Celtics. He said he also believes James quit during the playoff series last year against the Orlando Magic.
"It's not about the leaving," Gilbert insisted. "It's the disrespect."
Gilbert's open letter is the first thing that greets visitors to the Cavs web site. Team officials say they share his sentiments.
Gilbert was not at a team press conference this afternoon, but first-year head coach Byron Scott said, "Once you get to know Dan you understand how passionate he is ... He's speaking from his heart. He's the voice for this organization and he's going to do whatever it takes to win."
General Manager Chris Grant said Gilbert's comments won't hurt the team's image in the eyes of fans. "He has the right to voice his opinion," Grant said.
Gilbert may be nursing more than hurt feelings. It's estimated that the value of the team plummeted $250 million after James' decision to leave town.
Brian Windhorst, who covers the Cavs for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, said that whatever headaches James may have caused Gilbert, the star was worth millions to the team.
"It's a little bit hypocritical for Dan Gilbert to absolutely destroy him and act like he didn't want him, when he would have liked nothing more than to keep him for six more years," said Windhorst.
Today's front page of the Plain Dealer has a one-word banner headline which says simply, "GONE." A photo of James shows him walking way from the camera. An arrow points to his hand, and in smaller type, it says, "7 years, $62 million, no rings."
Gilbert boldly guaranteeed the Cavaliers will win an NBA championship, "before the self-titled former 'king' wins one," referring to James' nickname, "King James."
"Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there," Gilbert said in his letter. "Sorry, but that's simply not how it works."
During his announcement, shown live on ESPN, James said, " I hope the fans understand; maybe they won't."
In Cleveland, they didn't.
Jilted fans took to the streets, setting fire to James' jerseys.
"This is the worst day of my life," said one.
"He turned his back on us," said another.
LeBron James' Image Goes up in Flames
Those who packed downtown bars to watch the announcement on ESPN immediately started shouting "sell-out," and fans crowding Canal Park in James' hometown of Akron started to boo as he spoke.
"I can understand where they [the fans] come from. And I want them to know that every night I went out there, I did it for them. I didn't do it for anyone else but those fans, because I wanted to please them every night I went out on the basketball court."
This is not over for Gilbert. "He has gotten a free pass," Gilbert said. "People have covered up for [James] for way too long. It's time for people to hold these athletes accountable for their actions."