(Reuters) – LeBron James is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, four years after he left his home state to join the Miami Heat, he announced today.
The NBA’s biggest star made the announcement in a first-person essay published in Sports Illustrated, in stark contrast to his televised decision four years ago, for which he was heavily criticized.
During his time in Miami, James led a star-studded Heat team to two NBA championships and four Eastern Conference titles but Sports Illustrated’ s banner headline “I’m Coming Home” explained his decision to go back to Cleveland.
“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,” James wrote.
“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.”
The Heat, Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers had also expressed interest in signing James, who is widely regarded as the best basketball player on the planet.
The frenzy over the 29-year-old forward’s eventual landing spot was the biggest the NBA had seen since James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all signed contracts to team up in Miami in 2010.
James, who was on the losing end of a humbling five-game defeat by the San Antonio Spurs in last month’s NBA Finals, opted out of the final two years of his contract with Miami to become a free agent who could negotiate with any team.
“These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man,” James, who grew up in Akron, Ohio, said about his time with the Heat.
“I will always think of Miami as my second home. Without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.”
James, a 10-time NBA All-Star who was drafted first overall by Cleveland in 2003, has averaged 27.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game in 11 NBA seasons.
His decision to rejoined the Cavs is expected to dramatically shift the balance of power in the NBA with bookmakers reacting swiftly to the news.
Cleveland, which has never won an NBA title in 44 years of existence, was listed as the 4-1 favorite to win next season’s NBA while Miami blew out to odds of 50-1.