Well, I suppose we can file this one under "ideas whose time has come." (Or, if you'd prefer, "ideas whose time probably should've come long, long ago, but now there might be the potential to capitalize on said idea, so, I mean, here goes nothing.")
This Tuesday marks four years since "The Decision," the hourlong television special in which then-free-agent LeBron James announced his intention to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to join forces with fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat. James' choice, and his method of communicating it, made an awful lot of people upset, but nobody was more incensed than Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who communicated his seething rage at James' "cowardly betrayal" of Cavs fans in an open letter — famously written in Comic Sans font — that included the Quicken Loans magnate's personal "GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER 'KING' WINS ONE." (That, um, didn't work out.) Gilbert received a $100,000 fine for his outburst — which many scorned Cavs fans expressed an interest in paying as a sign of solidarity — and the Comic Sans choice, in particular, became a running gag that even the Cavs tried to get it in on after a while.
On Sunday, amid rumors that James — who has exercised the early termination option in his contract with the Heat, and who seems intent on pushing Miami president Pat Riley to make good on his promise to reload the Heat roster after a five-game annihilation at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 NBA finals — might be considering a return to Cleveland as he weighs his options, Deadspin's Barry Petchesky checked and discovered that the anti-LeBron Comic Sans screed was still being hosted on the Cavaliers' official website. But on Monday morning — again, one day shy of four years after the fact, and one day after a plane apparently belonging to Gilbert and that the Cavaliers have used in traveling to meetings with free agents was tracked heading down to Florida (albeit with Gilbert allegedly not on board) — the sands had shifted:
Sometime overnight, the Cavs' website FINALLY took down Dan Gilbert's hysteric comic sans letter. https://t.co/baHr1Nm7gc
— Barry Petchesky (@barryap1) July 7, 2014
It's true — the longtime link to Gilbert's letter now redirects to a page featuring links to team-produced content on the Cavaliers' selection of Andrew Wiggins with the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft, hiring Euroleague coaching star David Blatt to take over on the bench, and adding well-regarded coach Tyronn Lue as an assistant. It also features several "daily news" roundups — each preceded by a note indicating that "the news clips and articles listed don't necessarily reflect the views or beliefs of the Cleveland Cavaliers or their Basketball Operations staff, partners, or sponsors" — that include links to multiple stories about, among other things, the Cavs' chances of landing James in free agency. Which is, y'know ... interesting.
— Matthew Torino (@mtorino75) July 7, 2014
... and Miami Herald columnist/ESPN radio and television personality Dan Le Batard:
While Gilbert did acknowledge in the fall of 2012 that he regretted guaranteeing that the Cavaliers would hoist the O'Brien before James' Heat did, he told Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal back in February that he didn't regret writing and posting the letter itself:
Q: How about The Letter? As a whole, do you regret sending it?
A: 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. I keep a couple binders on my desk and I have a binder of the responses to The Letter from the people of Cleveland. There’s thousands, maybe 2,000 from every facet of life, from CEOs of big companies to hand-written letters from 94-year-old ladies, from street sweepers to policemen and firemen. The response went way beyond. For some reason, it appealed to this generational Cleveland thing. If you want to talk about books, someone should publish all the responses to The Letter. It was like, ‘We’re from Cleveland and we’ve been rejected.’
Q: Were you surprised by the reaction? Did you know it would cause that type of firestorm?
A: No, not to the extent that it did. I didn’t think it would. Going back now and looking, yeah probably. But at the time? I didn’t think it would become sort of the thing that it did.
Q: Has it had any negative impact on your organization over the last four years?
A: You never know for sure, but I haven’t felt it or been aware of it. People said nobody would come here, that’s not true. Do I think any players are going to not come here because Dan wrote a letter three or four years ago? I don’t think so.
The question, of course, now becomes whether one particular player is not going to come to Cleveland because Dan wrote a letter four years ago.
James and his agent, Rich Paul, will reportedly have a face-to-face meeting with Riley early this week to discuss the prospect of returning to the Heat. Several other teams, including the Phoenix Suns, reportedly remain interested in trying to procure the services of the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, but Paul — James' longtime friend and the president of Klutch Sports — "has been funneling belief into the organization that the Cavaliers are in strong position to lure James" away from Miami, according to Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski.
The longer James' choice remains unclear, the greater the uncertainty surrounding the futures of Bosh and Wade, and the greater the potential for upheaval in the league's power structure. It seems unlikely that James would be swayed by the removal of an angry missive from a website four years down the line, but as symbolic gestures go, Gilbert and the Cavaliers could certainly do worse. With so much still up in the air, one thing, at least, seems clear: we won't have to wait four years to find out how this ongoing soap opera will end.
- - - - - - -