NBA superstar LeBron James is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers after winning two NBA titles with the Miami Heat.
The league's biggest star told Sports Illustrated for a story published on Saturday that he was signing with the Cavaliers because his relationship with the northeast Ohio area is "bigger than basketball."
"When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission," James said in the 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."
James spent his first seven NBA seasons in Cleveland. In four years with the Heat, he went to the NBA Finals four times, winning two championships. And now he heads back to Cleveland to see if he can finally deliver on his promise of winning a crown for that title-starved city.
"I am shocked & disappointed in today's news," Heat managing general partner Micky Arison wrote on Twitter. "However I will never forget what Lebron brought us for 4 years. Thanks for memories."
James said he will always call Miami his second home.
But the lure of his first one was simply too strong to ignore. James is from Akron, Ohio, not far from Cleveland.
"Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It's where I walked," James told SI. "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 give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can."
He left Cleveland being called disloyal, a narcissist, a coward and a quitter - and that was all by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.
And now James will play for Gilbert again.
"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.
"I'm not having a press conference or a party," James told Sports Illustrated. "After this, it's time to get to work."
And with that, the "Big 3" era in Miami ends much sooner than the Heat expected.
James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade all exercised options in their contracts to become free agents this summer, but the thinking was that they would renegotiate their deals to give the team financial flexibility in an effort to make upgrades to the roster.
Instead, James is heading back to his roots. Bosh may now leave as well, with widespread reports that the Houston Rockets are preparing to give him a four-year contract offer worth about NZ$100 million. And the Heat face a decidedly uncertain future, a stunning twist for a franchise that has won the last four Eastern Conference titles.
James doesn't turn 30 until December, so it's safe to say that he just may be reaching his peak.
And the numbers he's put up in his first 11 NBA seasons already make him a certainty to finish among the league's all-time greats.
He's already 27th all-time in scoring with 23,170 points, and could climb into the top 20 next season. Since he entered the league as the No 1 overall pick by the Cavaliers in 2003, no one has played more minutes or scored more points.
Only Tony Parker and Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs have appeared in more regular-season wins over the last 11 years than James. And he just seems to keep getting better; this past season was his seventh straight year where he posted a career-best in field-goal percentage, shooting just under 57 percent.
"I'm ready to accept the challenge," James wrote. "I'm coming home."