NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — With his legacy in Miami complete, LeBron James will take his game back to the team that first gave him a shot at glory in the NBA.
James told SportsIllustrated.com in an exclusive first-person account that he’s ready to accept the challenge of trying to deliver to the city of Cleveland its first professional sports championship since 1964.
“Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio,” James wrote. “It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”
James left Cleveland being called disloyal, a narcissist, a coward and a quitter — and that was all by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who wrote that infamous letter blasting James for choosing Miami.
And now James will play for Gilbert again.
“I’m not having a press conference or a party. After this, it’s time to get to work,” James said.
Terms of James’ contract with the Cavaliers were not immediately released.
After getting to four NBA Finals in four seasons with the Heat, winning two championships and cementing his place as the premier player in the sport, James opted out of his contract earlier this summer, only to end up going back to the Cavaliers and the fan base he angered by departing following the 2009-10 season.
“When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio,” James wrote.
For days the popular belief was James, 29, would return to Miami, despite flirtations with a few teams, including the Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers, but on Wednesday Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com went against the grain and reported that his sources were saying there was a “90 percent” chance of James returning to Cleveland.
Sheridan went on WFAN with Marc Malusis and Sid Rosenberg and laid out the reasoning for why James would go to the Cavaliers, and they included James having already written his legacy in Miami and the challenges that await him in Cleveland.
A four-time NBA Most Valuable Player and two-time NBA Finals MVP, James, 29, is averaging 27.5 points per game for his career. The 6-foot-8 small forward will next play his prime years with the Cavs’ young stars Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
James wrote of how he’s looking forward to the challenges that will come with the Cavaliers, who have not been competitive since James’ first go-around with the club from 2003-04 to 2009-10, but warned that turning the team around would not happen overnight.
“I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys,” James wrote. “I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. And I can’t wait to reunite with Anderson Varejao, one of my favorite teammates.”
James led the Cavaliers to at least the Eastern Conference semifinals every season from 2005-06 until his departure, including a spot in the NBA Finals in 2006-07, where they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in four games.
For Cleveland, it’s a new day.
For Miami, it’s likely the end of a championship run.
“I am shocked & disappointed in today’s news,” Heat managing general partner Micky Arison wrote on Twitter. “However I will never forget what Lebron brought us for 4 years. Thanks for memories.”
And with that, the “Big 3” era in Miami ends much sooner than the Heat expected.
James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade all exercised options in their contracts to become free agents this summer, but the thinking was that they would re-do their deals to give the team financial flexibility in an effort to make upgrades to the roster.
Instead, the game’s biggest star is heading back to his roots. Bosh looks like he will return as he reportedly turned down the Houston Rockets to stay in South Beach, and the Heat are trying to bring back an aging Wade.
Regardless, the Heat will still face a decidedly uncertain future with James, a stunning twist for a franchise that has won the last four Eastern Conference titles.
Wade and Bosh all opted out this summer, as did longtime Heat forward Udonis Haslem, and those were considered good signs in a plan to keep James.
Turns out, they were gambles that didn’t pay off.
“I went to Miami because of D-Wade and CB,” James told SI. “We made sacrifices to keep UD. I loved becoming a big bro to Rio. I believed we could do something magical if we came together. And that’s exactly what we did! The hardest thing to leave is what I built with those guys. I’ve talked to some of them and will talk to others. Nothing will ever change what we accomplished. We are brothers for life.
“I also want to thank Micky Arison and Pat Riley for giving me an amazing four years,” James added.
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