CLEVELAND — King James has reclaimed his throne in Cleveland.
LeBron James stunned the NBA on Friday around noon when he announced his long-awaited free agency decision, choosing to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers and leaving the Miami Heat. According to reports, he will sign a four-year, $88 million max contract.
James made the announcement on Sports Illustrated's website in a letter, writing "In northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I'm ready to accept the challenge. I'm coming home."
James also wrote: "My relationship with northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn't realize that four years ago. I do now."
James tried to take a subdued approach to free agency this offseason. He chose to have his agent Rich Paul handle initial meetings with teams. Despite James' silence, rumors and speculation ran rampant during the process. People constantly refreshed Twitter accounts and websites for any morsel of information or clue to his decision.
James met with Heat president Pat Riley in Las Vegas on Wednesday. The smooth-talking executive from Miami attempted to show James the stability in the Heat organization compared to what has gone on in Cleveland recently, with coaching and front office changes, but this time, Riley wasn't able to convince James to keep his talents in South Beach.
"I am shocked & disappointed in today's news," Heat owner Micky Arison posted on Twitter. “However I will never forget what LeBron brought us for 4 years. Thanks for memories @KingJames.”
"When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two," James wrote. "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."
Fans across northeast Ohio celebrated James' return, donning his jersey and taking photos outside Quicken Loans Arena.
James joins a talented young roster, at least for now, with No. 1 overall picks Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett, and Andrew Wiggins, as well as Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, and former teammate Anderson Varejao.
James singled out many in his letter: "I see myself as a mentor now and I'm excited to lead some of these talented young guys. 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."
"Welcome Home @kingjames," Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wrote on Twitter. "I am excited for the fans and people of Cleveland and Ohio. No fans and people deserve a winner more than them."
Hours before the decision, ESPN reported Gilbert's infamous comic sans letter might be a road block to James' return to Cleveland.
"I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man," James wrote. "We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?"
"We had five great years together and one terrible night," Gilbert told James in a meeting last Sunday, Yahoo reported.
The Cavaliers are expected to add pieces to complement James via free agency or trades. The team cleared $21.7 million in cap space and acquired a trade exception in a multi-team deal that sent Jarrett Jack and Sergey Karasev to the Nets and Tyler Zeller to Boston. The trade was made official on Thursday morning.
There have been reports the Cavaliers might be interested in trading for Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, but may balk if it costs them Wiggins.
Ray Allen is another name the Cavs could have an interest in, according to league sources. Allen has spent the last two seasons in Miami, and he hit a memorable 3-pointer that propelled the Heat to their second straight title two seasons ago.
James, the Cavs' all-time leader in scoring and other categories, took Miami to the NBA Finals four straight seasons, winning the title twice. Not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven as he famously predicted when he first signed there.
Former teammate Chris Bosh signed a max contract to stay with the Heat hours after James' decision. Dwyane Wade is expected to do the same.
"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 on the Heat Web site.
Riley went on to say, "We've won multiple championships and competed for many others. ... We've proven that we can do it, and we'll do it again."
James opened his letter announcing his return to Cleveland as follows: "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.
"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."