It's Cleveland: LeBron picks Cavs
(SportsNetwork.com) - It's Cleveland.
LeBron James is going back to play basketball in his home state, telling Sports Illustrated that he has decided to make a return to Ohio to again play for the Cavaliers.
James' decision has ended the speculation about where the four-time MVP would play next, conjecture that had grown to a fever pitch over the past days and weeks.
He returns to the Cavaliers after four seasons and two NBA championships with the Miami Heat, the team he picked four years ago over Cleveland when he said during a TV special that he would "take my talents to South Beach."
The announcement broke the hearts of Cavaliers fans, some of whom burned his jersey four years ago and some of whom have since campaigned for his return.
James made this monumental decision in much different fashion, telling SI's Lee Jenkins his reasons for returning to Ohio.
"Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio," the Akron native said in the SI piece. "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 opted out of the final two years of his contract with the Heat last month, leaving $42 million on the table. Reports indicated that he didn't want to sign with another team unless he received a maximum deal that calls for $20.7 million for the 2014-15 season.
Cleveland opened cap space earlier this week in a three-team deal that sent guard Jarrett Jack and guard/forward Sergey Karasev to Brooklyn, and center/forward Tyler Zeller to Boston.
James now becomes a central veteran figure on an otherwise young, but rising, Cavaliers team that has had the No. 1 pick in the draft in three of the four years since his departure.
Guard Kyrie Irving, the first pick in 2011, was Rookie of the Year and last season was honored as the All-Star Game MVP. He just signed a max deal to stay in Cleveland, which also has a new coach in David Blatt.
Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins was taken No. 1 by the Cavs last month. The team also has Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 pick in 2013, and Dion Waiters, who was second on the team in scoring last season behind Irving.
James' decision brings the hope of a championship season back to Cleveland, a city that hasn't won a major sports title since 1964, when the Browns captured the NFL crown. It's the longest drought for any city with at least three major sports franchises.
"I'm not promising a championship," James said in SI. "I know how hard that is to deliver. We're not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I'm realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. 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."
The Heat reached the NBA Finals in each of his four seasons with the club and won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013. They were denied a three-peat by the San Antonio Spurs last month.
Miami president Pat Riley met with James this week, but was apparently unable to convince James to remain with the Heat.
"I am shocked & disappointed in today's news," wrote Heat owner Micky Arison on Twitter moments after the news broke Friday. "However I will never forget what Lebron brought us for 4 years. Thanks for memories @KingJames."
There was speculation that James wouldn't return to Cleveland because of issues with owner Dan Gilbert, who wrote a scathing letter four years ago in the aftermath of James' decision to leave for Miami.
"I've met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We've talked it out," James said in SI. "Everybody makes mistakes. I've made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?"
Gilbert also responded on Twitter with a welcome home message.
"Welcome Home @kingjames," Gilbert wrote Friday. "I am excited for the fans and people of Cleveland and Ohio. No fans and people deserve a winner more than them."
In the end James said it was about going back home.
"I always believed that I'd return to Cleveland and finish my career there," he wrote. "I just didn't know when. After the season, free agency wasn't even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn't going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy."
James averaged 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists in 77 games this past season. He averaged 26.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.7 assists in his four seasons with the Heat.
In seven seasons with Cleveland, which selected him with the first overall pick of the 2003 draft, James averaged 27.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists.
He was the Rookie of the Year in 2003-04 and took the Cavs to the NBA Finals in the spring of 2007, falling to the Spurs in a four-game sweep.
The Cavs haven't reached the playoffs since he left, winning just 19 games in the first season following his departure and marginally increasing the victory total in each of the subsequent years with a high-water mark of 33-49 in 2013-14.
As for the Heat, the big three of James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade have broken apart, but Friday night it was reported Bosh was returning to Miami on a five-year, $118 million contract.
"While I am disappointed by LeBron's decision to leave Miami, no one can fault another person for wanting to return home," Riley said in a statement. "The last four years have been an incredible run for South Florida, Heat fans, our organization and for all of the players who were a part of it. LeBron is a fantastic leader, athlete, teammate and person, and we are all sorry to see him go.
"Over the last 19 years, since Micky and I teamed together, (This) has always been a championship organization; we've won multiple championships and competed for many others. Micky, (Heat coach) Erik (Spoelstra) and I remain committed to doing whatever it takes to win and compete for championships for many years to come. We've proven that we can do it and we'll do it again."
07/11 19:21:54 ET