CLEVELAND – If LeBron James was going to win another NBA title, heal broken hearts and continue building his legacy, he knew there was only one place to go.
To Ohio. Home.
Four years after he left for Miami, a widely criticized departure that hurt his image and crushed a long-suffering city's championship hopes, James is coming back to play for the Cavaliers to try and end Cleveland's half-century title drought. He's returning to his basketball roots, to the people who know him best, to make good on a promise.
James made the announcement Friday with a powerful essay written for Sports Illustrated. His decision ended two weeks of speculation with the entire league waiting on his move.
When he finally made it, Cleveland was his choice over re-signing with the Heat.
“I looked at other teams, but I wasn't going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland,” he said to SI. “The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.”
James had not yet signed a contract, but he made it clear he will wear a Cavaliers jersey next season.
“When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission,” James said in the SI first-person story. “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.”
The talented kid from Akron, now a homecoming king.
Cleveland is thrilled to have him back. James is the league's best all-around player, a four-time MVP who was dubbed “The Chosen One” as a can't-miss high school star who learned the game on the playgrounds of Akron, about 40 miles from Cleveland. At 6-foot-8, 260 pounds, he can score from all over and is one of the game's best passers and defenders.
Staying in Miami would have been easy. He could have made another run at a third title and fifth straight NBA Finals appearance.
Instead, James picked the young, unproven Cavs, with a rookie coach, David Blatt, who spent last year in Israel. Almost unbelievably, he'll again work for owner Dan Gilbert, who torched James on his way out the door in 2010.
For Cleveland, a city accustomed to so much sports heartache – as the Cavaliers, Browns and Indians have come close but failed to win it all – news of James' return triggered a spontaneous downtown celebration during Friday's lunch hours.
Car horns blared and strangers high-fived on the sidewalks outside Quicken Loans Arena, where James had so many big moments during his first seven seasons as a pro.
Four years ago, some fans burned his jersey.
On July 11, 2014, all was forgiven.
“Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio,” James told SI.
“People there have seen me grow up.”
James may never surpass Michael Jordan's six titles, but his legacy could be bringing one to Cleveland, devoid of a championship in any sport since 1964.
“I'm not promising a championship,” he said. “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.”
He's starting fresh with Gilbert, who famously wrote a blistering letter condemning James and calling him disloyal, narcissistic and cowardly.
At some point, the two worked out their differences.
“I've met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man,” James said. “We've talked it out.”
Gilbert, too, has moved on.
“I am excited for the fans and people of Cleveland and Ohio. No fans and people deserve a winner more than them,” Gilbert said on Twitter.
James finished his essay on SI by saying: “I'm ready to accept the challenge.
“I'm coming home.”