October 29, 2014

CLEVELAND (AP) Things are back to where they once were between Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and LeBron James.

In fact, they're friendly enough to crack jokes about each other.

''I just saw LeBron,'' Gilbert said Wednesday in his first news conference since February. ''He looked at me and said, `Looks like you grew an inch.' I said I could use it.''

My how far they've come.

On the eve of Cleveland's season opener - James' official return to the Cavs - both Gilbert and the superstar addressed their relationship, which became fractured four years ago. When James announced he was leaving for Miami in 2010, Gilbert publicly degraded him in a scathing letter to Cavs fans.

Gilbert called James ''cowardly'' and ''disloyal'' and predicted the Cavs would win an NBA championship before the ''self-declared former king.'' It was thought their relationship couldn't be fixed, but Gilbert said that was never the case and the two met in Miami in July to work through their differences.

That paved the way for James to re-sign with the Cavs.

Gilbert said time has healed things and he and James are united.

''Obviously there are a lot of fireworks at that time and a lot of emotions flying all over the place,'' he said. ''So you sort of get back to business. You don't really think too much about what's going on. It's been four years. As far as it goes right now, it's great.''

James said he and his boss are connected again.

''I think it's really good,'' James said. ''We had one bad moment, and it just overshadowed all the great times we had together, and now we're back together. We both have something in common: to bring a championship back to this city, and that's what it comes down to.''

James said he and Gilbert have the opportunity and obligation to represent the franchise the right way.

Gilbert said Cleveland's struggles over the past four years were ''payment'' for what the city and his franchise are experiencing now. The Cavs are favored to win the NBA title. However, Gilbert was careful not make any proclamations about how far the thinks his team can go this season.

''Well, I learned my lessons on guarantees and predictions and stuff, so I don't do much of that anymore these days,'' Gilbert said. ''I do believe we put together a team and a coaching staff and a front office that's worked very hard certainly to put us in a position to compete at a high level. That's why you play the games.''

The past four years were painful ones for the Cavs, whose biggest wins came in the draft lottery. Gilbert was asked if he felt he ''deserved'' James back.

''I don't know if deserve is a word that I sort of look at in this context,'' he said. ''No, unless you're really doing some significant harm to another human being, I don't think the bridge is ever burned. We had a night there where emotions were flying high on all sides. ... Things like that happen a lot in business where people have phone calls and heated exchanges, and people are writing each other emails and letters, and then the next day they're eating lunch and doing business. It's not a be-all or end-all type of thing.''

Gilbert said the difference in the sports world is that the arguments become public knowledge.

''I think the franchise deserves what it has here, and I think LeBron deserves the city of Cleveland and the franchise, and all the perks that are around him,'' he said.

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