After taking the first 10 days of July to weigh his options, free agent forward LeBron James has chosen to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers, announcing his decision in a first-person essay as told to Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins. Four years after James' "Decision" to leave Cleveland to pursue championships with the Miami Heat led Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to write an angry letter expressing his feelings on James' departure, it was James' turn to pick up the pen and tell the world how he felt — and LeBron's delivery was impeccable.
James didn't apologize for leaving Cleveland four years ago; as he wrote, "If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently, but I’d still have left." But in writing about what precipitated his free-agent choice, James discussed how the wins, losses and myriad life experiences that piled up over "an amazing four years" alongside Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley brought him here — to the place where he could announce, once and for all, that he is "coming home."
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.
I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. 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.
In making what he feels is the right choice for himself and for his family, James also closes the book on what has seemed from the outside to be four years of bad blood with Gilbert, the owner who seethed at James' "cowardly betrayal" and the fall of Cleveland's "former hero" back in the summer of 2010. That's all behind them, James wrote, past wrongs forgiven, with his family's blessings; what's done is done, falling by the wayside in the face of what's left to be done.
To make the move I needed the support of my wife and my mom, who can be very tough. The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned -- seeing all that was hard for them. My emotions were more mixed. It was easy to say, “OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.” But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?
James touched briefly and lightly on the on-court case for the Cavaliers, where he'll join recently maxed-out All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, beloved former teammate Anderson Varejao, and a pair of former No. 4 overall picks, power forward Tristan Thompson (whom James' agent, Rich Paul, also represents) and shooting guard Dion Waiters. (He did not specifically mention the Cavs' two mostrecent No. 1 picks, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, which instantly led to speculation that either or both of two Canadian prospects could soon find themselves on the move, especially if that Kevin Love smoke winds up catching fire.) The Akron-born James wrote of the importance "of bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio," but urged patience in the pursuit ("We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic").
As he saw it, though, upon reaching this crossroads in his career and his life, James' choice had to be about more than the relative on-court merits of his two top suitors.
[...] this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.
And so, four years later, he's taking his talents back to Northeast Ohio, and shifting the balance of power in the Eastern Conference north with him. That, he said, isn't all that's going to be different this time around.
I’m not having a press conference or a party. After this, it’s time to get to work.
And for the rest of the NBA to load up for bear in preparation for the return of the King.
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LeBron James announced on Friday that he will return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, his hometown team.
The NBA star, who left the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in 2010, made the announcement in an essay for the Sports Illustrated website.
He said: “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, 29, who has been reported to be on his way to Brazil for Sunday’s World Cup final, ended a week of intense speculation by saying: “I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.”
James was born in Akron, Ohio, where he became a high-school basketball star. Selected first in the 2003 Draft, in 2007 he took the Cavaliers to their first NBA Finals. They were swept, four games to nothing, by the San Antonio Spurs.
The form of James’s announcement echoed, if in less dramatic form, that of his decision to go to Miami. In 2010, he made his choice in a much-derided ESPN TV special entitled “The Decision”.
That move led to a public falling out with the Cavaliers owner, Dan Gilbert, who posted an infamous open letter to fans in which he promised that his team would win an NBA championship before James did.
James has appeared in four straight NBA Finals series with the Heat, winning against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012 and the Spurs in 2013. Last season, the Heat lost the finals to the Spurs in five games, leading to suggestions that their ageing team was in need of rebuilding.
The Cavaliers have not made the playoffs since James left, although their struggles over recent seasons have landed them the last two No1 Draft picks. They are also reported to be in trade talks with the Minnesota Timberwolves, for the star forward Kevin Love.
In his Sports Illustrated piece, James considered his acrimonious departure from Cleveland and said he had met Gilbert before making the decision to return.
“The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned – seeing all that was hard for them. My emotions were more mixed. It was easy to say, “OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.” But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react?
“I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?”
James also discussed his time as part of Miami’s “big three”, alongside the star players Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Wade and Bosh followed James in becoming free agents this summer and could now follow him out of Miami. Bosh has been linked with the Houston Rockets.
“I went to Miami because of D-Wade and CB,” he wrote. “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.”
James also sought to dispel any rumours – or any future rumours – that his relationships with Miami coach Erik Spoelstra or president Pat Riley had anything to do with his decision to leave.
“I’m doing this essay because I want an opportunity to explain myself uninterrupted,” he wrote. “I don’t want anyone thinking: ‘He and Erik Spoelstra didn’t get along. … He and Riles didn’t get along. … The Heat couldn’t put the right team together.’ That’s absolutely not true.”
James added: “I’m not having a press conference or a party. After this, it’s time to get to work.”