We are all witnesses. Again.
LeBron James is returning to the Cavaliers just four years after leaving the franchise amid scorn, burned jerseys and a scathing letter from ownership.
James made the stunning announcement through Sports Illustrated that he’s coming home for good. He met with Miami Heat officials Wednesday in Las Vegas, then took two days to ponder his decision before announcing Friday he’s returning to the Cavs. His contract with the Cavs is for four years and more than $88 million.
“I’m not having a press conference or a party,” James told SI.com. “After this, it’s time to get to work.”
The decision capped a wild week of rumors, speculation and a social media eruption that had percolated for days in anticipation of his return.
In the letter to SI.com, James said the lure of coming home was big.
“Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio,” he said. “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 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.”
James immediately makes the Cavs one of the top teams in the East again. Las Vegas odds have gone from 60-1 to 3-1 on the Cavs winning the NBA title. He’ll play alongside Kyrie Irving, who signed a max offer sheet this week, and a young nucleus that includes Andrew Wiggins, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson.
Now they’ll get to work on creating their own Big Three similar to the one he just dumped in Miami. The Cavs and Minnesota Timberwolves have re-engaged in trade discussions regarding Kevin Love, multiple sources have confirmed, but both sides remain far apart on a deal.
ESPN reported that Love has said he is intrigued by the possibility of playing with James. One source with knowledge of the talks disputed the idea the Cavs would refuse to include Wiggins in any deal for Love.
“I don’t think anyone is untouchable,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of trade negotiations.
For now, Cavs fans are thrilled just to welcome back their star.
At least 6,000 season tickets were sold Friday in the hours after the announcement, and the team expected to reach its cap of 12,000 by day’s end.
James returns as the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, along with the quest to fulfill his previous promise to deliver a championship to this title-starved city.
“I’m not promising a championship,” James told SI.com. “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.”
James’ return so soon seemed impossible when he left, when he went on national television and declared he was taking his talents to South Beach to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
He left the franchise in turmoil. His jerseys burned on street corners, police were called to protect the banner (and building) that once hung across from Quicken Loans Arena and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert chastised James in an infamous letter that night, calling his decision a “cowardly betrayal” and accusing him of “deserting” the city and the franchise. Gilbert later was fined $100,000 by the league after telling the Associated Press that James quit on the Cavs.
All of that is gone now, washed away in the euphoria of forgiveness and the hope for a better tomorrow. While James was off winning his first two championships and two more Most Valuable Player awards with the Heat, the Cavs crumbled without him. They missed the playoffs all four years, changed general managers twice and have hired three head coaches since James last played a game here.
Their .311 winning percentage the last four years is the worst in the league, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Seeds of this return were planted as far back as 2012, when James admitted he wanted to play in Cleveland again if the fans would have him. A source close to James backed that up hours later, cautioning that any such move was still 2½ years from happening.
By the time last season ended, however, the Cavs’ chances at James seemed extinguished. They stumbled to a 33-49 finish and fired their coach and general manager after failing to make the playoffs in the woeful East.
But Cavs personnel always believed they would have a chance at James this summer, even while opposing front-office executives and agents polled at May’s draft combine rolled their eyes and mocked the idea of James considering the Cavs.
“It’ll be a short conversation,” one prominent agent said in May. “No thank you and have a nice day.”
Today most certainly is a nice day for the Cavs, a team that has appeared in one NBA Finals (with James) and has never won a championship.
The Cavs created a max slot for James on Wednesday, essentially giving away three first-round picks (Tyler Zeller, Sergey Karasev and a future first-rounder) to clear the space to sign James and others.
Gamble pays off
It was a huge gamble without any assurances, but it has surely paid off. Now they’ll get to work surrounding him with other talent.
Ray Allen has already made it clear he’d like to continue playing with James, who was upset last season when the Heat waived Mike Miller under the amnesty provision. Both players are also unrestricted free agents again this summer.
ESPN has reported that James has reached out to Miller about possibly joining him with the Cavs.
All of the pain and suffering — and feelings of betrayal — in the past four years will be quickly forgotten now. The vitriolic chants of “Akron hates you!” that James endured during his first return trip to the Q will surely be replaced with the adoration and cheers he grew to love during his first seven seasons here.
James grew up a bit in Miami. He became a man and a champion.
Now the king has returned to his throne.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.