(CBS/AP) It’s official.
LeBron James is returning to the Cavaliers, he told Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins in his own words, and he’ll try to bring a championship to a city that’s not won one in any major sport since 1964.
“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given,” James writes. “Everything is earned. You work for what you have.
“I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.”
An Akron, Ohio native, James spent his first seven NBA seasons in Cleveland. In four years with the Heat, he went to the NBA Finals four times, winning two championships. And now heads back to Cleveland to see if he can finally deliver on his promise of winning a crown for that title-starved city.
“Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked,” James told SI. “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.”
He left Cleveland being called disloyal, a narcissist, a coward and a quitter — and that was all by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who wrote an infamous letter blasting James for choosing Miami.
And now James will play for Gilbert again. He confirmed that he met with Gilbert and the two have buried the hatchet.
“Who am I to hold a grudge?” James wrote.
Gilbert shared his thoughts on Twitter soon after the decision was announced late Friday morning.
Welcome Home @kingjames. I am excited for the fans and people of Cleveland and Ohio. No fans and people deserve a winner more than them.....—
Dan Gilbert (@cavsdan) July 11, 2014
James joins a team that features star guard Kyrie Irving and a slew of young talent. That includes rookie and top overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins, but the Cavs are also rumored to be in pursuit of Timberwolves star power forward Kevin Love. Minnesota would presumably ask for Wiggins in any such deal.
With his decision, the Big Three era in Miami will end 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 may now leave as well. And the Heat face a decidedly uncertain future, a stunning twist for a franchise that has won the last four Eastern Conference titles.
James doesn’t turn 30 until this December, so it’s safe to say that he just may be reaching his peak.
And the numbers he’s put up in his first 11 NBA seasons already make him a lock for basketball immortality.
He’s already 27th all-time in scoring with 23,170 points, and could climb into the top 20 next season. Since he entered the league as the No. 1 overall pick by the Cavaliers in 2003, no one has logged more minutes, scored more points or had a better plus-minus ratio than James. His teams have outscored opponents by a staggering 3,743 points with him on the floor over that span; for comparison’s sake, Dwight Howard is No. 2 on that list, with a plus-2,312 ratio.
Only Tony Parker and Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs have appeared in more regular-season wins over the last 11 years than James. And he just seems to keep getting better; this past season was his seventh straight year where he posted a career-best in field-goal percentage, shooting just under 57 percent.