CHICAGO -- Jesse Jackson criticized Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert on Sunday, saying Gilbert sees LeBron James as a "runaway slave" and that the owner's comments after the free-agent forward decided to join the Miami Heat put the player in danger.
Shortly after James announced his decision last week, Gilbert fired off an incendiary letter to Cleveland's fans, ripping the 25-year-old and promising to deliver a title before James wins one. He called James' decision "cowardly" and later told The Associated Press he believes James quit during a handful of Cavaliers playoff games.
"He has gotten a free pass," Gilbert told the AP in a phone interview late Thursday night. "People have covered up for [James] for way too long. Tonight we saw who he really is."
Jackson said Gilbert's comments were "mean, arrogant and presumptuous."
"He speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers," the reverend said in a release from his Chicago-based civil rights group, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. "His feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave. This is an owner employee relationship -- between business partners -- and LeBron honored his contract."
Gilbert responded to Jackson's comments on Monday.
"I strongly disagree with Rev. Jesse Jackson's recent comments and we are not going to engage in any related discussion on it. Going forward, we're very excited about the Cavaliers and the positive future of our region," Gilbert said in a statement released by the Cavaliers.
Messages were left Sunday night seeking comment from James.
Jackson also called Gilbert's comments an attack on all NBA players and said the owner should face a "challenge" from the league and the players' association.
NBA spokesman Tim Frank declined comment.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.