Lure of home lands LeBron in Cleveland; Team sells out season tickets in eight hours
LeBron James is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, announcing the move in a heartfelt letter that set off celebrations in the home state he infuriated in 2010 by fleeing via free agency to the Miami Heat.
“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now,” said James in an exclusive co-authored essay with Sports Illustrated.
“But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get,” the essay reads.
“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.”
James said he sat down man-to-man with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to discuss the letter he wrote scolding James and calling him a coward following the infamous “Decision” to join the Heat.
“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?”
Cleveland embraced the return of the “King” as expected, as the Cavaliers had all but sold out of season tickets less than eight hours after LeBron James announced he would come back to accomplish some unfinished business with the team.
A Cavaliers source confirmed that the team capped season-ticket sales at slightly more than 12,000 tickets Friday, leaving roughly 8,000 tickets per game to be used for group sales and ticket plans.
Shortly before 11:30 a.m. , when James’ decision was revealed, the Cavaliers’ ticket phone lines were so jammed that the team began rerouting lines in the office to be used for ticket sales. The Cavaliers sell season tickets only over the phone.
James is expected to sign a maximum contract with the Cavaliers, joining All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and the No. 1 overall draft picks the last two seasons — Anthony Bennett (2013) and Andrew Wiggins. Cleveland could acquire forward Kevin Love from the Timberwolves in a deal that has been rumored contingent on James signing with the team.
The Cavaliers made two trades Wednesday that resulted in creating $21.7 million in salary cap space to make James an offer. Point guard Jarrett Jack was shipped to the Brooklyn Nets along with Sergey Karasev, and Tyler Zeller and a lottery protected first-round pick went to the Boston Celtics for a second-round pick as part of a three-team deal that also included Marcus Thornton.
James made expectations clear — he is out to collect championships — but warned it will not be easy. He said he will not have a party or a press conference, rather begin getting to work.
“I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver,” the essay read. “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.”
Former teammates Ray Allen and Mike Miller are reportedly possibilities for the Cavaliers. Allen, 39, is contemplating retirement but said last month he would return if the chance to play with James was a possibility.
James won two NBA titles in four seasons with the Heat. Last season, he averaged 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6..4 assists per game. In 11 NBA seasons, he owns averages of 27.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists. He is also a 10-time All-Star and four-time MVP.
Heat president Pat Riley flew to Las Vegas on Wednesday night to meet with James before the final decision was made to go back to Cleveland.
“While I am disappointed by LeBron’s decision to leave Miami, no one can fault another person for wanting to return home,” Riley said. “The last four years have been an incredible run for south Florida, Heat fans, our organization and for all of the players who were a part of it. LeBron is a fantastic leader, athlete, teammate and person, and we are all sorry to see him go.
“Over the last 19 years, since Micky and I teamed together, the Miami Heat has always been a championship organization; we’ve won multiple championships and competed for many others. Micky, Erik (Spoelstra) and I remain committed to doing whatever it takes to win and compete for championships for many years to come. We’ve proven that we can do it and we’ll do it again.”