LeBron James has decided to leave the Miami Heat after four seasons and two championships and return to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"I'm coming home," the 29-year-old Akron, Ohio native, who had opted out of his contract with the Heat and become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, told Sports Illustrated, which published the story Friday.
The last time James was a free agent he broke the hearts of Cleveland's sports fans by announcing in a now-infamous nationally broadcast TV special in 2010 that he would be "taking (his) talents to South Beach" after seven seasons with the Cavaliers, who chose him as the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft.
The star forward almost single-handedly led the Cavs to the NBA Finals in 2007 but, lacking a strong supporting cast, was unable to guide them to a championship in his first stint with Cleveland.
In Miami, James teamed up with two other stars, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, to form a Big 3 that led the Heat to four consecutive NBA Finals berths and two championships - in the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons.
The last Finals appearance was a sour one, however, as the Heat, who got little contribution from anyone but James, were routed in five games by the San Antonio Spurs.
James will join some talented young players in Cleveland, including All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, but the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player told Sports Illustrated that his childhood ties to the area played a big part in his latest decision.
"Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. 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," the superstar said.
He said, however, that the decision to depart Miami was a tough one and that "the hardest thing to leave is what I built with (Wade and Bosh)."
James' announcement was a harsh blow to the Heat, whose immediate future depended on re-signing their biggest star.
The 30-year-old Bosh, who also is a free agent, is now expected to leave the Heat and sign a lucrative contract with the Houston Rockets.
Wade's future also is unclear. Last month, the 32-year-old shooting guard opted out of the final two years of his contract, which would have paid him $42 million, and was expected to sign for less money to give the Heat the financial flexibility they needed to upgrade the roster.
But James' departure likely means the team will be in rebuilding mode and far from championship contention. EFE