Thursday, September 25, 2008
Owner: Speculation that LeBron will leave Cleveland 'insult to the city'
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- LeBron James may wear a New York Yankees hat everywhere from his hometown of Akron to Beijing, but Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert thinks rampant speculation that the superstar will leave Cleveland in two years is "an insult to the city."
Gilbert said James has given him no indication that he plans to leave for New York after his contract expires in 2010. He called the talk of his departure nothing more than conjecture from bored sports reporters.
"It's kind of an insult to the city of Cleveland in my opinion -- an insult to the Midwest," said Gilbert, who spoke to the media at the Cavaliers' suburban practice facility Thursday, a few days before the team opens training camp.
James has two years remaining on a contract extension he signed with the Cavaliers in July 2006. He has said that he can't see himself playing anywhere else right now, and has declined to address what will happen in two years.
But his fondness for New York has helped prompt speculation that he will leave Cleveland for the New York Knicks or the New Jersey Nets, who are partly owned by his good friend, rap mogul Jay-Z.
James riled Cleveland fans last October when he attended an Indians playoff game against New York wearing a Yankees cap. He was wearing one again earlier this month on the sideline of the Dallas Cowboys -- another of his favorite teams -- before the Browns' season opener.
James' loyalty has been questioned by everyone in Cleveland from fans to newspaper columnists to Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who earlier this month said, "LeBron isn't a Cleveland guy. ... who knows if he even likes the Cavaliers?"
Edwards backtracked a few days later, saying it was only a sarcastic joke.
Speculation about James leaving escalated in the national media over the summer as he helped lead the U.S. Olympic basketball team to a gold medal in Beijing.
"People in your profession are very bored on both sides of the country. There's no basketball going on so they write this stuff," Gilbert said.
Discussions on a contract extension for James are still two summers away, said Gilbert, who is entering his fourth season as the Cavs' owner.
"I think we're one of the top organizations in the NBA," Gilbert said. "I think we're going to compete for a championship in the next year or two and we'll worry about that summer when it comes."
Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry added that he understands the speculation about James in 2010, but that it's not the team's present focus.
"We want to seize the opportunity we have in front of us right now," he said.
The Cavaliers acquired point guard Mo Williams during the offseason, drafted forward J.J. Hickson and are largely returning with the team that lost to eventual champion Boston in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last season.
"I think we were literally closer last year than the year before," said Gilbert, referring to their first trip to the NBA finals, in which they were swept by San Antonio.