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Friday, July 9, 2010
Updated: July 11, 12:15 AM ET
Time for Cavs owner to act his age

By Chris Broussard
ESPN The Magazine

Dan Gilbert
After Dan Gilbert's letter last week, we have an idea to keep the Cavs owner busy.
I'm beginning to wonder if Dan Gilbert's real name is Benjamin Button. You know, the character from the hit movie, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," who looks old when he's young and young when he's old.

How else to explain a 48-year-old man -- an intelligent, accomplished, incredibly wealthy 48-year-old man -- sounding off like an acne-riddled 13-year-old who'd just been jilted by his first love?

LeBron James has been roundly criticized for the stunning way he handled his departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, and rightly so. James should have informed the team of his decision to leave in person and as soon as he could, thus giving it the chance to formulate a practical Plan B rather than having to react to such devastating news on the fly.

He dumped them -- and northeast Ohio -- on national TV, making the ending unnecessarily dramatic and harsh.

But James is 25 years old. And though in some ways he's unusually mature for his age, he's still 25 years old. No excuses, but at that age, we can all be self-absorbed and unaware of -- if not flat-out defiant of -- proper protocol.

But Gilbert's nearly twice James' age. And when you're two winters away from 50, you should know better than to act off pure emotion. If you want to react spontaneously in your living room, ranting and raving like a heartbroken teenager, immaturely pointing out flaws in the one you'd gladly spend the rest of your life with, issuing ridiculous threats that are about as likely as purple rain, and -- get this -- casting spells (apparently, like many teens, Gilbert's a Harry Potter fan), go right ahead.

But to do that publicly? Uhh, two words:

Grow up.

But the childishness didn't stop there. On Friday, Gilbert, the owner of Fathead, dropped the price of James fatheads from $99.99 to $17.41. Benedict Arnold was born in 1741.

With the way this is going, I'm expecting Gilbert to tape "Kick Me" signs to the seats on the visitors bench when Miami visits The Q next season. That'll be a good one!

Let's be honest: Gilbert, and most every other owner or league executive, makes a habit of being just as cold-blooded and callous as James was in making his decision. They do it with NBA players all the time, telling them to their faces they have no intention of trading them and then picking up their cell phone and offering them to a competitor as soon as the player leaves the room.

Heck, the Cavs are doing that at this very moment. Everyone on that roster not named LeBron has been available in a trade since that May semifinals series loss to Boston. Think Gilbert's told them that?

What Gilbert did was especially reckless and immature when you consider how volatile the situation in Cleveland was Thursday night. With fans burning James jerseys and throwing things at murals and paintings of James, he thought it best to exacerbate their anger rather than to call for calm.

So now, I'm told, James' close friends -- and perhaps even the player himself -- have been threatened with violence, told that their homes in Cleveland and Akron may be burned down. They've got friends and relatives living in the area, and Gilbert thought it right to stir up the fury of the masses even more?

In his incendiary e-mail, Gilbert wrote that James' decision to leave Cleveland was "the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn."

Yet in his letter, he seemed to threaten to expose potentially embarrassing information about James, writing that he plans to communicate "events of the recent past" to the public over "the next several days and weeks." Is that how Gilbert wants children to act when they don't get their way?

Gilbert's diatribes -- he further attacked James' character in a subsequent interview with The Associated Press -- were hypocritical in so many ways.

He called James a quitter, saying he quit in five playoff games over the past two years, yet he was willing to pay him $125 million to stay on his team. He called James a "self-declared King," yet failed to mention that it was he himself who promoted the "King James" brand throughout his arena. He said James has "gotten a free pass" and that "people have covered up for him for way too long," yet it was Gilbert who overruled the objections of former GM Danny Ferry and gave James and his friends carte blanche throughout the organization. If James was enabled, Gilbert was the enabler.

Then Gilbert said James' actions Thursday night revealed "who he really is." Well, perhaps James is saying the same thing about Gilbert. Perhaps he's known all along that Gilbert didn't respect him; that Gilbert thought he was a "coward;" that Gilbert thought his "King," "Chosen One" and "Witness" nicknames were a joke; that he'd mock and trash them, and him, as soon as James was no longer making him money.

Maybe that's why James didn't return Gilbert's phone calls and e-mails over the past two months -- because he knew the owner looked at him as a moneymaker and nothing more. Maybe James no longer wanted to play for someone like that: someone who, in the heat of the moment, refuses to act his age.