It was November 6, 2010, and the Cleveland Cavaliers were playing the Washington Wizards in DC. It was a game played early on in the wake of The Decision. Cleveland still employed Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao had yet to succumb to devastating injury. No one had any idea what direction, if any, the Cleveland Cavaliers were going. I was in one of the worst hotels in Cleveland with three of my buddies, planning on seeing the Browns play the New England Patriots the next morning. We wanted to stay in on this Saturday night because we were all broke and didn't want to blow what little money we had the night before the Browns game. So we played poker in a non-smoking room that smelled like smoke with sunflower seeds as chips. And turned on the Cavs.
It was a hell of a game. Tied heading into the fourth quarter, the Wizards went with a three point guard line-up: Gilbert Arenas, Kirk Hinrich, and rookie John Wall. With the Cavaliers up by two with about a minute and a half left in the game, shooting guard Daniel Gibson nailed a three pointer. It put a cap on what had been a great game for Gibson, who finished with 19 points. I beamed at my friend Anthony and told him I was going to buy a Gibson jersey. The Wizards never got within five after Gibson's 3 pointer. I never bought a Daniel Gibson jersey.
Daniel Gibson's career in Cleveland was strange. After being a highly touted recruit out of high school, Gibson underachieved a bit at Texas (though he was a prominent part of an Elite Eight team) and ended up being selected 42nd overall in the 2006 NBA draft. The problems that plagued him during his time in Cleveland were evident at Texas. Good size for a point guard, but he isn't a point guard. But in 2007, as a rookie, Cleveland was able to give him a near perfect opportunity for the skill-set he did have. Late in the season, head coach Mike Brown forced Larry Hughes to move to the point guard spot. This moved Eric Snow, a non-shooter (that's as nice as I can put it), to the bench, and allowed Daniel Gibson and Sasha Pavlovic to get more minutes at shooting guard. The Cavaliers offense, which previously relied on Zydrunas Ilgauskas almost exclusively to help spread the floor, became a little more dynamic.
I wrote here about Larry Hughes and how effective the move was. Gibson could guard point guards and hit open threes and it made the Cavaliers a Finals team in a weak Eastern Conference. Everyone remembers Game 6 when Daniel Gibson shot Cleveland into the NBA Finals for the first and only time of the LeBron James era. The game was a blowout and it sent the shocked Pistons home for the summer. Gibson had 31 points, 12 of which came at the free throw line, 15 of which came on 5-5 3 point shooting. Each long distance bomb sent Quicken Loans arena into a frenzy. It was surreal; the veteran laden Pistons lying down on the road while Daniel Gibson took over.
There was never a way after that for Daniel Gibson to become anything other than a fan favorite. Adored by the Cavalier faithful (particularly the teen girl variety), Gibson jerseys were a popular alternative to Big Z and LeBron James. But even if Cleveland fans would have loved him regardless, Gibson went above and beyond. He was accessible to fans before and after games who wanted autographs. He was affable and went out of his way to compliment the city whenever he could. His game may have never caught up to the expectations that Game 6 made inevitable, but his contribution to the Cavaliers organization and fan-base did.
In some ways, Daniel Gibson felt like a bizarre hold-over from the LeBron years post-Decision. He probably felt like this was the case too, in some way. The contract extension he signed, thought to be a steal at the time, kept him in the Wine and Gold and a trade market never materialized. But even as the Cavalier losses piled up, Gibson never showed that he was upset or wanted out of Cleveland. He continued to praise the city, and even now, as it appears that the Cavaliers organization is moving in a different direction, expresses a desire to play in Cleveland. He is close with Kyrie Irving and has spent time mentoring the young player.
It is easy to remember what Daniel Gibson didn't become. He never became a point guard. He struggled to stay healthy. He couldn't guard shooting guards capably. But we will remember Game 6. And I will remember a November night when Gibson made this heartbroken Cavs fan feel good about a terrible team, if only for one night.
Thank you for being a great Cavalier, Boobie.