CLEVELAND — “King James” is coming home to reclaim his throne.
In a heartfelt first-person essay, LeBron James announced Friday he is rejoining the Cavaliers after spending the last four years with the Miami Heat.
The Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High graduate broke the news himself before boarding a flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Rio de Janeiro to attend the World Cup final.
“I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when,” the four-time NBA MVP wrote exclusively for Sports Illustrated. “I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown.
“I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.”
Though the terms of James’ contract were not disclosed, he is expected to sign a four-year deal worth $90 million upon his return to Ohio.
The Cavaliers already have All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving locked up through 2019-20, making them an immediate Eastern Conference title contender.
The length of the pact is notable because James had told other teams he was only seeking a two-year, maximum-level deal in his second foray into unrestricted free agency.
“I am shocked and disappointed in today’s news,” Heat owner Micky Arizon said. “However, I will never forget what LeBron brought us for four years. Thanks for the memories, King James.”
James spent his first seven seasons with Cleveland — highlighted by an NBA Finals appearance in 2007 — before infamously announcing that he “was taking (his) talents to South Beach” on live television on July 8, 2010.
In Miami, he led the Heat to four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, winning two world championships while forming the “Big Three” with shooting guard Dwyane Wade and power forward Chris Bosh.
James informed Wade of his decision to leave during their Thursday night flight from Las Vegas, where they were attending the LeBron James Skills Academy. Yahoo also reported Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert received the word in a phone call from James’ agent, Rich Paul, just minutes before the open letter was posted.
“While I am disappointed by LeBron’s decision to leave Miami, no one can fault another person for wanting to return home,” Heat president Pat Riley said. “LeBron is a fantastic leader, athlete, teammate and person, and we are all sorry to see him go.”
James is the third-leading scorer in NBA history at 27.5 points per game — trailing Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain — and has averaged 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists in 842 games. He remains Cleveland’s all-time leader in points (15,251), steals (955) and minutes played (22,119).
James admitted that the scathing letter written by Gilbert when he left the franchise four years ago weighed heavily on his mind. So did the venomous reaction of Cleveland fans.
“To make the move, I needed the support of my wife and my mom (Gloria), who can be very tough,” he said. “The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned — seeing all that was hard for them. My emotions were more mixed.
“It was easy to say, ‘OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.’ But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? 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?”
Gilbert was predictably thrilled with the news, tweeting that his 8-year-old son asked him, “Daddy, does this mean I can finally wear my LeBron jersey again? Yes it does, son. Yes it does!”
The Michigan billionaire continued, “Welcome home King James. I am excited for the fans and people of Cleveland and Ohio. No fans and people deserve a winner more than them.”
Though he lived in Coconut Grove, Fla., while realizing his title dreams, the 6-foot-8, 240-pound small forward returned to his Bath Township estate each summer.
James also frequently visited Akron during breaks in the NBA season, and had Swenson’s burgers and shakes delivered to the visiting locker room each time the Heat played at Quicken Loans Arena.
But no matter how hard they tried, LeBron and Savannah James never felt like South Florida was truly home.
“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,” he said. “Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.
“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.”