LeBron James is going back to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The superstar free agent revealed his decision to leave the Miami Heat and rejoin his original NBA team Friday in a first-person piece on Sports Illustrated's website.
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James, a four-time league MVP, hails from Akron, Ohio, less than an hour's drive from Cleveland.
He left the Cavaliers as a free agent four years ago to team up with fellow stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, where they reached the NBA Finals in each of their four seasons together and won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013, with James named the MVP of both title series.
After the Heat lost to the San Antonio Spurs in five games in this year's Finals — ending their bid for a third consecutive title — James, Bosh and Wade opted out of their contracts.
"My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball," James told Sports Illustrated. "I didn't realize that four years ago. I do now."
His announcement ends weeks of speculation that reached a fever pitch in recent days as fans and media sifted through dubious reports on everything from transport trucks outside James's South Florida home, to the colour scheme of his official web site, to a cryptic Instagram post by his wife.
No contract terms were immediately released, but ESPN reported James is getting a four-year deal for the maximum $88 million US allowed under NBA rules.
Cavs have 3 Canadians
James joins a Cavaliers team that includes three Canadian players — Andrew Wiggins, this year's No. 1 overall draft choice; Anthony Bennett, last year's top pick; and three-year veteran Tristan Thompson.
Reports have already surfaced, though, that the Cavs could be dangling Wiggins as part of a trade to land Minnesota star Kevin Love.
LeBron's move is expected to touch off a flurry of player movement, as several star free agents have been waiting to see where he ends up before making their commitments.
Bosh has reportedly received a lucrative offer from the Houston Rockets, and Carmelo Anthony has been mulling whether to stay with the New York Knicks or go elsewhere.
James was drafted out of high school first overall by Cleveland in 2003 and spent his first seven pro seasons there. He led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007 but was criticized in subsequent years for failing to take the team back to the championship series while playing with a questionable supporting cast.
James won his second consecutive NBA MVP award with the Cavs in 2010, but following a second-round loss to Boston he decided to form the so-called Big 3 in Miami. James was widely ripped for announcing his destination in a primetime television special called "The Decision" and for using the phrase "I'm going to take my talents to South Beach."
"If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently, but I’d still have left," James said in the SI piece.
A reported stumbling block to James's return to the Cavs was his fractured relationship with owner Dan Gilbert, who wrote a scathing open letter after the post-Decision departure four years ago. But James said that's water under the bridge.
"I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man," James told SI. "We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?
Gilbert flew to South Florida on Sunday and told James he was sorry.
"The truth of the matter is we had five years together and we had one bad night," Gilbert told NBA-TV in Las Vegas during the Cavs' summer league opener. "I certainly talked about the things I was embarrassed about and apologized about that night, they talked about a few things and we got it out of the way pretty quick. It's all about the future."
Heat owner Micky Arison was more cordial upon being spurned:
I am shocked & disappointed in today's news. However I will never forget what Lebron brought us for 4 years. Thanks for memories @KingJames— Micky Arison (@MickyArison) July 11, 2014
The Cleveland team James joins now is in better shape than the one he left. The perennial underachievers have had the good fortune to win three NBA draft lotteries since LeBron's departure, including the last two. 2011 top pick Kyrie Irving has blossomed into a star, and Cleveland hopes for the same from Bennett and Wiggins, who, along with Thompson, hail from the Toronto area.
In naming some of the players he's looking forward to playing with in the SI piece, LeBron mentioned Irving and Thompson, but left out Wiggins and Bennett. It's unclear, though, whether James had any knowledge of a potential Wiggins trade.
At least one betting site, bodog.ca, has already made Cleveland the favourite to win the 2014-15 NBA title, offering odds of 4/1. The Spurs are next at 5/1.