‘I always felt like all roads would lead back to Cleveland.’: Cavaliers legend Daniel Gibson shares his newfound passion on and off the court

Former Cleveland Cavaliers legend and current Cleveland Charge assistant Daniel Gibson has found his new calling with the same organization where his professional career began.
gibson charge coach scout
Former Cleveland Cavaliers legend and current Cleveland Charge apprentice Daniel Gibson has found his new calling with the same organization where his professional career began. Photo credit: Cleveland Charge

When his NBA career came to a close after the 2012-13 NBA season, then-Cleveland Cavaliers guard Daniel Gibson shared with Right Down Euclid that he was unexpectedly forced to retire after seven years in the league. A combination of an ankle injury, a torn tendon in his foot, a divorce and the death of his grandmother, who lived with Gibson, forced him to put his career on standby and put him in a dark place mentally. Things became even harder for Gibson while he recovered from offseason surgery, which meant he couldn’t go back to his safe place on the court which forced him to turn elsewhere.

But, thanks to his son, Daniel Jr., and discovering that he could express his emotions through his writing and his music, Gibson found a way to keep going and pull through his struggles. Eventually, he was able to get his legs literally back underneath him and found a way back to his hardwood sanctuary. Gibson dabbled in coaching AAU teams, acted as an ambassador for the Cavaliers, tried his hand at broadcasting and also continued his music career in his spare time. But, despite all the new ventures, Gibson shared with Right Down Euclid that he was still looking for his next chapter, and purpose, in life. He continued trying different things whenever and wherever he could and that’s how he eventually found himself working with the NBA’s Assistant Coaches Program at last year’s NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, seeing if it was the right fit for him.

The NBA’s Assistant Coaches Program provides participants the opportunity to sharpen their coaching skills through hands-on experience, coaching and basketball strategies to better prepare participants like Gibson for pursuit in their possible coaching and basketball endeavors. For Gibson, the more he worked with NBA prospects, it felt like this might be the path he should pursue. It appears that the winds of fate felt the same way about Gibson’s future as they set his sails in the Windy City.

Gibson shared with Right Down Euclid that after a practice session, he was taking the escalator back to his hotel room to rest before the next set of drills. By pure happenstance J.B. Bickerstaff, the current head coach of Gibson’s former NBA team, was at the top. Bickerstaff was surprised to see Gibson at the NBA Draft Combine and was excited to learn that the former Cavaliers legend was interested in coaching. The two talked about it more at length throughout Gibson’s time in Chicago and when things soon wrapped Bickerstaff invited Gibson out to Las Vegas to join the team during Summer League.

“J.B. told me, ‘If you’re going to try this anywhere, why not do it with us?’,” said Gibson to Right Down Euclid. “For me, it was the only team I played for. I have all my history in this organization and, to be honest, I just love the Cavaliers more than anything and I always felt like all roads would lead back to Cleveland. Deep down in my heart, I always prayed for the opportunity to be back here. I was blessed to be in that position.”

gibson cavaliers mike brown
CLEVELAND – MAY 05: Head coach Mike Brown of the Cleveland Cavaliers talks with Daniel Gibson #1 while playing the Atlanta Hawks in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 5, 2009 in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland won the game 99-72 to take a 1-0 series lead. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

When Gibson arrived in Las Vegas to join the Cavaliers during Summer League last summer, he was still a bit on the fence wondering if coaching was the right fit for him. But, when Darius Garland, who had just signed his multi-million contract extension with Cleveland, saw Gibson, it made him feel even more at home. For Garland, who Gibson has always had a relationship with and sees similarities with as well because “we always keep smiling while busting your ass up and down the floor”, it was news to find out Gibson was interested in trying out coaching but was excited at the prospect. Garland told Gibson that he wanted to have his friend and mentor part of what he, Bickerstaff and the Cavaliers were building and would pass along the word to Cleveland’s higher-ups.

Well, it appears Garland’s message was received because soon after, Gibson got word from Bickerstaff that the Cavaliers organization wanted him to continue his work with the NBA’s Assistant Coaches Program in Cleveland. Gibson shared he had similar offers from former Cavaliers and current Sacramento Kings head coach Mike Brown as well as Portland Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups as well. But, at the end of the day, Gibson said he always knew it was the Cavaliers or nothing. To Gibson, the Cavaliers gave him his opportunity to live out his professional dreams and he felt like he owed it to the organization, as well as the City of Cleveland, to return the favor and help develop the future of Cleveland basketball.

Mind you, wasn’t an immediate shift for Gibson to join Cleveland’s coaching staff. The beauty of the NBA’s Assistant Coaches Program is that it allows Gibson to continue to grow and develop in order to help him find where he ultimately wants to end up in the NBA. That’s why he was added to the Cleveland Charge’s coaching staff under head coach Mike Gerrity (one of Bickerstaff’s assistants) as an apprentice as well as a scout for the team. Some days, Gibson helps work with guards like Sharife Cooper, Chandler Vaudrin, Sam Merrill and others on refining their shooting from various spots on the floor. He also does the same with Garland and Donovan Mitchell at times prior to the start of home games for the Cavaliers.

But, that’s only part of what Gibson does with the Charge and the Cavaliers. Gibson shared with Right Down Euclid that the time he doesn’t spend teaching on the floor, he’s at home breaking down film for the Cavaliers, the Charge, either team’s upcoming opponents as well as college prospects the organization should keep an eye on. Gibson says it’s not a huge change of pace for him since he already spent his free time binging hoops. Now it’s more of the same with a bit more homework to go with it since he includes extensive and thorough reports of what he sees that will give Cleveland a tactical advantage. He then applies his reporting to instruct the players he works with to help fine-tune their game to help them move from the G League to the NBA.

“I love scouting since it reminds me of my AAU team,” said Gibson. “I’m able to see things at various levels and I feel like I have a trained eye for guys that can get to the next level. Then I’m able to get out there with the guys and teach them different ways to get a rhythm into their shot or give them different drills or reps to help them get comfortable for when they’re in the game. I feel like I want to do this forever.”

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Cleveland Charge apprentice and former Cleveland Cavaliers legend Daniel Gibson speaks with Cavaliers two-way big man Mamadi Diakite during a break in the action. Photo credit: Cleveland Charge

Speaking of Gibson’s trained eye, it already made an impact on the Charge early into his time with the organization. Leading up to Charge training camp, Gibson approached Charge general manager Brendon Yu and Cavaliers President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman about Jermaine Haley, who had starred at West Virginia. While there wasn’t a ton of tangible data on Haley’s game, Gibson made a case to both Yu and Altman after breaking down an extensive amount of film on the former Mountaineer.

Yu and Altman took Gibson’s insight into serious consideration and, eventually, brought Haley into the fold as a training camp invite. Unfortunately, due to a foot injury, Haley never stuck with the Charge and appears to be heading back to Canada to play for the London Lightning. But, the fact that Yu and Altman trusted Gibson’s judgment shows that he has a knack for player evaluation and providing insight on things others may not see.

“To me, that’s beautiful. That’s what you hope to earn,” said Gibson. “It’s just them saying, ‘Oh we trust Booby’s opinion from the levels he’s played at and him knowing what kind of guys we want here.’ I just want to keep working on it so that I’m a guy that guys like J.B. or Koby or B. Yu can depend on and keep earning their trust to help find guys that fit Cleveland’s culture.”

Gibson went on to express to Right Down Euclid that he never wants to rest on his laurels as a franchise legend while working within the Cavaliers and Charge organizations. He embraces the day-to-day challenges that come with being in the G League since it’s nowhere near as luxurious as life can be in the NBA. For example, the Charge are in White Plains, New York (about an hour from Manhattan) to kick off 2023 against the Westchester Knicks. Gibson shared he’ll be spending his New Year’s Eve scouting and reporting on key players for the Knicks to ensure that the Charge are properly equipped on January 2.

Small sacrifices like that or massive ones like being away from his son are ones Gibson is willing to make in order to make his newfound passion a reality. Down the line, Gibson shares with Right Down Euclid that he hopes to become a head of scouting at the NBA level or work in some capacity in player evaluation with an NBA front office. Ultimately, Gibson hopes it can be with the Cavaliers since Cleveland always and forever will be home to him.

He feels it every time he enters Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, when he gives back to the community or even when he walks around downtown Cleveland as just a regular citizen. Sure, people flag him down, reminding him of his heroics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons. He even jokes that sometimes they even make him feel a bit older when they share how young they were when they saw it happen nearly 16 years ago.

“Guys that play hard and leave it all out on the floor, the city gets behind that 100%,” said Gibson. “The Anderson Varejao’s, your J.R. Smith’s, the guys that get out there and leave it all out on the floor. That’s what this city respects because that best represents the city of Cleveland. Just gritty, hard-working, blue-collar guys.

“I feel special and I feel humbled that that game resonates with so many people. The love is a big part of why I came back because I want to continue my history here. It makes it so much better.”

Clearly, experiences with fans on top of everything else that’s happened this season so far with the Charge reaffirm Gibson’s choice to take a chance on this new venture. The love and admiration Gibson has for Cleveland as well as the Cavaliers organization is infectious and more than anything it’s authentic. As he said, he always felt his path in life would lead him back to Cleveland one day. Now, with a newfound passion, Gibson can help guide the future of the organization he adores.

Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at evan@downeuclid.com. He can also be found three to five times a week on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.

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