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LeBron James is returning to Cleveland

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After more than two weeks’ worth of anticipation and speculation, LeBron James said he intends to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a first-person Sports Illustrated article as told to Lee Jenkins.

The announcement signals the end of an era in Miami, where the so-called “Big 3” of James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade reached the NBA Finals in four consecutive seasons, winning titles in 2012 and 2013. In the 2014 finals, the Heat was dismantled by the San Antonio Spurs in five games, a drubbing that led the trio to exercise early-termination options in their contracts and become free agents. It was thought their opting out was a sign they would rework their contracts, taking less money so the Heat might add more talent to pursue a third title. Thursday’s decision by James proved that belief incorrect.

Now it will need to rebuild without James, while Bosh — also a free agent after terminating his contract in June — is also expected to leave Miami and accept a four-year, $88 million offer from the Houston Rockets.

James famously left the Cavaliers for the Heat in 2010 following his now infamous televised special, “The Decision,” aired live on ESPN. The choice to leave Cleveland did not sit well with Cavaliers fans, some of whom burned his jersey following the announcement. Now James is returning to a part of the country with which he says he still has a deep connection. As told to Sports Illustrated’s Jenkins:

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. 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.

It’s possible that Cleveland will be the last stop, and not just the next stop for James. He adds in the SI exclusive that, “I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there.” 

With a stated goal of bringing a title to Cleveland, there is an air of excitement for what comes next for the Cavaliers. James will join a roster that now features four former No. 1 overall draft picks: James (selected in 2004), all-star Kyrie Irving (2011), Anthony Bennett (2013) and heralded rookie Andrew Wiggins (2014). With the addition of James, the Cavaliers will instantly become a contender in a relatively weak Eastern Conference, particularly with the Heat primed for a significant fall in the standings. However, their overall youth has led some to believe that more significant changes could be coming for the Cavs, namely a trade for Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love.

Word began to trickle out that James had settled on a team mid-afternoon on Thursday, when various reports surfaced regarding a police presence outside James’s home in Akron.

James has spent this week in Las Vegas, where he is holding his annual basketball camp, and met with Heat President Pat Riley Wednesday night. He returned to Miami overnight before news of his decision broke Friday. He is scheduled to attend the World Cup Final in Brazil this weekend.

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