Four years and three days after The Decision aired, James is leaving the Miami Heat, choosing to join an up-and-coming Cleveland team rather than stick with the one that has been to the NBA Finals every year since he arrived.
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.
James won the NBA championship and the Most Valuable Player award in 2012 and 2013, and disappointingly lost to the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs in 2010 and 2014, respectively. With improved three-point accuracy and a more developed post game, he will return to the Cavaliers a better player than he was when he left, an amazing feat considering he registered a PER of 31.7 in 2008-09 and 31.1 in 2009-2010, two of the best individual marks in league history.
Miami’s lack of depth, youth and athleticism was exposed against the Spurs, but it was still an elite team. In Cleveland, James’ chances of winning another title next season might not be as great, but there is no shortage of young, talented players. He will team with fellow No. 1 overall picks Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, as well as recent top-five selections Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. James will also reunite with Anderson Varejao, and the Cavs reportedly are trying to acquire some of the sharpshooters who spread the floor for him with the Heat. There’s also the whole Kevin Love thing.
In the story, an as-told-to with SI’s Lee Jenkins, James addressed his decision at length, including Cavs owner Dan Gilbert’s infamous letter.
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?
I’m not promising a championship. 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. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. 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.
James focused on his Northeast Ohio roots, thanked the Heat organization and said he had the responsibility to lead. He’ll also lead the NBA into a new era, where Cleveland is once again a powerhouse.