Cleveland Cavaliers Are Not Hypocrites for Pursuing LeBron James

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Cleveland Cavaliers Are Not Hypocrites for Pursuing LeBron James
Steve Mitchell/USA Today

Four years ago, Cleveland Cavalier fans, players, employees and owners witnessed LeBron James announce his decision to leave the team on national television.

For most, there was no warning or even hint of his departure. Even the Cavaliers' ownership group found out a mere five minutes before James went on live TV.

Naturally, the response wasn't a positive one.

Cameras were rolling all across bars and restaurants in Northeast Ohio. When James let the words "South Beach" cross his lips, the result was a collective mixture of groans, yells and utter disbelief.

Jerseys were doused with lighter fluid and set ablaze, fans cursed his name and Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert described the decision as a "shocking act of disloyalty" in his now-infamous letter.

That night in Cleveland, bridges, along with jerseys, were burned.

Or so we thought.

Now, just four short years after James left the Cavaliers heartbroken and without an identity, rumors have swirled about a possible return.

The Cavs brass have already met with James' agent, Rich Paul, who "has been funneling belief into the organization that the Cavaliers are in strong position to lure James from the Miami Heat," reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The question is, why?

Why would James even consider returning to Cleveland after how he was treated among fans and ownership?

For the Cavaliers, does their pursuit of James signify a beautiful reunion or reek of hypocritical desperation?

 

Gilbert and James

For all the hate directed towards Cleveland fans, it's Gilbert who's received the most criticism for his reaction to James' departure.

After all, the owner of a professional franchise should be held to a higher standard than the common fan. He certainly shouldn't be using Comic Sans font, either.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

When Gilbert's letter was posted on the Cavaliers' official website the same night as the decision, reaction was mixed.

The passion conveyed was certainly refreshing for Cleveland fans who needed something, anything, to grab onto.

For those outside the city, the letter was mocked and widely looked down upon. It came off as immature, impulsive and desperate.

It insulted James himself, calling his actions a "shameful display of selfishness and betrayal."

All of this means Gilbert is a total hypocrite for trying to convince James to leave his current team for a return to Cleveland, right?

Maybe, maybe not.

Although much of the language in the letter mentioned James and his actions, Gilbert reminds us that the words he wrote were intended for the fans, not LeBron himself.

In an interview with Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal back in February 2014, Gilbert touched on the now-four-year-old letter:

I would’ve reworded the language in The Letter, but I don’t regret sending a letter out to our fan base. People forget the letter was not to LeBron, it was to our fan base. If I had to do it again, for sure, I would’ve reworded several parts of it. But I think it definitely needed a strong statement from me at that time.

When asked about James himself, Gilbert elected to take the high road, saying, "I just can’t get into that because he’s under contract to another team."

After James and the Miami Heat won the first of their two titles, Gilbert even took to Twitter to congratulate the newly crowned champs.

While he may have initially come off as immature, Gilbert has since opened up and admitted his mistakes.

If there's one thing that Gilbert's proven, it's that he's passionate about the Cleveland Cavaliers.

As a player considering switching teams, an owner with deep pockets who truly cares about winning would be a huge bonus, no matter what his history shows.

 

The Fans and James

Fact: Cleveland Cavalier fans burned James' jersey after he made his decision to leave.

While it's not a particularity proud moment in the city's history, it's true.

It's also true that way too much emphasis has been put on this, especially considering the incredibly small amount of fans that actually committed this act.

That season, 843,042 fans attended a game at Quicken Loans Arena, second among all NBA teams (via ESPN.com). Another 1.7 million people list themselves as fans, per the team's official Facebook page.

While there's no official count on burned jerseys, a Google image search of "LeBron James jersey burn" results in just seven total jerseys meeting their fiery end.

Seven.

Again, that's out of 1.7 million listed fans.

While this is a completely unscientific and relatively crude study, it does help to prove that the whole "But, but, they burned his jersey!" cry is extremely overrated.

Taking the opposite approach, Dustin Fox, radio host for Cleveland affiliate 92.3 The Fan, tweeted out a picture of his own perfectly preserved James jersey.

What followed was a mini renascence of retired Cavs apparel.

After Fox shared the picture of his, many followers began to do the same. Within 40 minutes, Fox retweeted 60 pictures of Cleveland fans sharing their own James jerseys. One fan showed off his collection of 28 different LeBron threads, none with any visible burn marks.

So to recap, that's seven jerseys burned in four years and roughly 100 perfectly intact ones displayed in 40 minutes.

In reality, there's still a lot of love for James in the Cleveland-Akron area. Some of it disappeared momentarily, while some of it never left.

If James did sign with the Cavaliers, there would still be a small number of people bitter about his decision to leave.

The vast majority, however, would be happy to have him back.

JASON MILLER/Associated Press

 

The Cavaliers and James

Despite the reasons given, some will still point to the Cavaliers organization as being hypocrites.

To them I ask, which Cavs front office are you referring to?

Since James left four years ago, Cleveland's front office has undergone a dramatic transformation.

Chris Grant was fired on Feb. 6 of this year and replaced with new GM David Griffin. David Blatt, the 2014 Euroleague Coach of the Year, is now on board, taking over for Mike Brown.

David Liam Kyle/Getty Images
Blatt, Andrew Wiggins and Griffin are all new to Cleveland. None were around when James was last in town.

The biggest shakeup concerning James may be his former teammate and friend, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who joined the Cavs front office upon retiring in 2011.

Ilgauskas played with James in Cleveland from 2003-2010 before joining him in Miami during the 2010-11 season. The two are very close. James even showed up to Ilgauskas' jersey retirement ceremony on March 8 of this year.

Recently, Ilgauskas was spotted with James outside a South Florida club.

If there's anyone in the Cavs organization that one absolutely can't label a hypocrite, it's Big Z. He not only supported James' decision to leave, but he wound up joining him in Miami.

Now a key member of Cleveland's front office, Ilgauskas could serve as a major recruiter for James.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

For the rest of the Cavaliers' higher-ups that weren't around when James departed, this could be viewed strictly as a business decision.

The best player in the NBA is a free agent. You have a good chance at acquiring him while giving up no assets in return. Why in the world would Cleveland not try to sign James?

Gilbert has admitted to making mistakes and did invite James back to Ilgauskas' ceremony, providing him with a lower box suite in which to watch.

The fans have proven that they still want and would support James.

The current front office and decision-makers are mostly new to the job, headlined by James' friend and former teammate Big Z.

If the Cavaliers continue to pursue James in free agency, there shouldn't be any sense of hypocrisy about it.

Cleveland has proven they've buried the hatchet with LeBron, no matter what his next decision may be.

David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

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