Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert thanked LeBron James for ending the city’s 52-year championship drought in 2016 and vowed to retire James’ No. 23 in a statement released late Sunday night.
Gilbert’s comments came hours after the announcement on Twitter that James had agreed to a four-year, $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. James left the Cavs for the second time after spending a total of 11 seasons with the franchise. He took the Cavs to the NBA Finals in each of his last four years.
Gilbert was heartfelt and appreciative of what James brought to the team, a direct contrast to the letter he wrote in anger in Comic Sans font when James left the Cavs for the Miami Heat in 2010. Those words — with Gilbert vowing the Cavs would win a title before James — prompted animosity from James and his family. The relationship had to be salvaged before James returned in 2014, having captured two championships in four years with the Heat.
Only seven player numbers have been retired by the Cavs. They include Bingo Smith (7), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (11), Larry Nance (22), Mark Price (25), Austin Carr (34), Nate Thurmond (42) and Brad Daugherty (43). The most recent ceremony, on March 8, 2014, was for Ilgauskas, James’ friend and former teammate, which James attended.
Gilbert’s full statement:
"We will always remember the evening of June 19, 2016 as the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, ended the 52-year drought delivering the long elusive championship that many thought they would never see... A championship that united generations of Clevelanders, both living and passed.
"Virtually anyone with roots in Northeast Ohio paused and felt the memories of the past and the utter joy that the burden of the so-called ‘curse’ was finally a thing of the past. Cleveland, Ohio was the home of a championship team for the first time since 1964. Words do not express the meaning and the feeling this accomplishment brought to the people of Northeast Ohio.
"None of this would have happened if LeBron James did not agree to come back home and lead the Cavaliers to the promised land. The entire Cavaliers franchise thanks LeBron for that precious moment and for all of the excitement he delivered as he led our team to four straight NBA Finals appearances.
"LeBron is a family man, first. We wish his kids, his wife Savannah, his mother Gloria, and LeBron himself nothing but the best in the years and decades ahead. LeBron’s connection to Akron, Cleveland and all of Northeast Ohio will most certainly endure as his commitment to the region and his support of many important causes has been impactful to so many kids and families.
"LeBron, you came home and delivered the ultimate goal. Nothing but appreciation and gratitude for everything you put into every moment you spent in a Cavaliers uniform. We look forward to the retirement of the famous #23 Cavs jersey one day down the line ..."
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/?cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/?MRidenourABJ.