LeBron James is heading back to Cleveland.
The four-time league MVP told SI.com on Friday that he is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Sources told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard the deal is expected to be four years for the maximum of $88 million.
"My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball," James told SI.com in a first-person essay. "I didn't realize that four years ago. I do now."
For James, it marks a complete turnaround from his original free-agent decision in 2010, when he bolted Cleveland for the Miami Heat, creating a Big Three with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that went on to win two NBA titles in their four years together.
"The hardest thing to leave is what I built with those guys," James said. "I've talked to some of them and will talk to others. Nothing will ever change what we accomplished."
James informed Wade of his decision, sources told ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst. Bosh, who is out of the country, was informed through his agent, sources said.
The Heat were in the mix for James again this time around. Team president Pat Riley traveled to Las Vegas to meet with James on Wednesday in an attempt to lure him back to Miami after the All-Star opted out of his contract following the team's NBA Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
But James said no to Riley and the Heat, instead choosing a Cleveland team that picked him No. 1 overall in the 2003 draft out of St. Vincent-St. Mary, where he starred as a high school player in his native Akron, Ohio.
"Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It's where I walked," James told SI.com. "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."
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After changing perceptions of loyalty in the NBA four years ago, LeBron decides, first and foremost, to return to his roots.
James spoke with Riley and owner Micky Arison on Friday morning on the phone before James' first-person essay was posted, sources said. ESPN.com reported incorrectly earlier that the Heat did not know of the decision until it was posted and were not expecting it. The Heat had left their meeting with James earlier this week in Las Vegas feeling good about their chances to retain him, even if it was on a short-term deal.
"I'm not having a press conference or a party," James said in his essay. "After this, it's time to get to work."
The decision certainly was cause for celebration in Cleveland, however. The Cavaliers have been mired in four losing seasons since their trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2010, James' last year with the team.
The Cavs had all but sold out of season tickets less than eight hours after James' announcement.
A team source confirmed to ESPN.com's Darren Rovell that the Cavaliers 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.
Rovell also reported that the Cavaliers have confirmed they are not raising season-ticket prices in the wake of the news. The team sold $1 million in ticket sales Wednesday on speculation alone, a source told Rovell.
Cleveland Browns QB Johnny Manziel was one of many fans expressing excitement on social media after receiving the news.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who saw James earlier this week at the LeBron James Skills Academy basketball camp, also commented.
"LeBron has a huge heart,'' Krzyzewski told ESPN.com's Andy Katz. "This decision is a great decision for him because he's following his heart and he loves his home."
Nike, James' biggest endorser, released a statement that said: "Like basketball fans around the globe, we are excited to support one of the world's greatest athletes as he enters the next chapter of his career. We look forward to seeing LeBron step back on the court in Cleveland."
In the days leading up to LeBron's decision, much was made of the infamous letter that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert had issued in the wake of James' departure in 2010, calling James a "coward" for leaving. James addressed the letter in his essay.
"I've met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We've talked it out," James said. "Everybody makes mistakes. I've made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?"
Gilbert weighed in himself on Twitter minutes after James' announcement.
"I'm thrilled with the news," new Cavaliers coach David Blatt told ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman. "It's exciting for the team, the state and for basketball. Life is full of surprises."
Reaction to James' decision was decidedly different in Miami than in Cleveland.
Arison expressed disappointment on Twitter shortly after James' announcement.
Riley issued a statement Friday evening, saying: "While I am disappointed by LeBron's decision to leave Miami, no one can fault another person for wanting to return home. 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."
The Heat and James also exchanged tweets later Friday.
James, Bosh and Wade all exercised options in their contracts to become free agents this summer, but the thinking was that they would redo their deals to give the team financial flexibility in an effort to upgrade the roster.
Now, the future is uncertain in Miami. Sources confirmed to ESPN.com that Bosh has agreed to return to the Heat on a five-year, $118 million deal after weighing a maximum-contract offer from the Houston Rockets. The team also is making a push to re-sign Wade. Aside from Bosh and Wade, the Heat currently have just four players who will be under guaranteed contract for next season.
James has spoken with former Heat teammate and free-agent forward Mike Miller about joining him in Cleveland, a source said.
James spent seven seasons with the Cavaliers, averaging 27.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game and leading them in 2007 to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Spurs. The goal for him now will be to get there again with a Cleveland team that boasts All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and former Kansas star Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 pick in last month's NBA draft.
Wiggins debuted for the Cavaliers' summer league team in Las Vegas on Friday, finishing with 18 points in a showdown with the Milwaukee Bucks' Jabari Parker, who was the No. 2 pick in the June draft. The Cavs won the game 70-68.
"It was a big day," Wiggins said. "We got the win, and we got LeBron back."
Irving tweeted about his new teammate Friday, writing: "Welcome home @KingJames."
Of Irving and James, Krzyzewski told Katz: "That will be a great, great duo ... LeBron is a brilliant player and Kyrie is really smart, two players with great knowledge of the game and understanding of the game."
James said he knows how hard it is to win a championship and that he is "realistic" about the team's hopes next season -- but optimistic.
LeBron James is coming home.
Four years after the world’s best player broke the hearts of fans in Northeast Ohio by leaving to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, James announced he would be returning to Cleveland early Friday afternoon in a letter he penned for Sports Illustrated.
“When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission,” James wrote. “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.
“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”
The move caps a stunning about-face from James, who set off demonstrations in Cleveland — including people burning his No. 23 Cavaliers jerseys in the streets — when he made his announcement to “take his talents to South Beach” in a cable television special four years ago.
His decision also prompted the infamous letter from Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, one that mocked some of James’ nicknames and called him “our former hero.”
James said he had to discuss those issues with both his mom, Gloria, and his wife, Savannah, and had to have a face-to-face meeting with Gilbert in order to put all of that behind him.
“I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man,” James wrote. “We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?”
Instead of holding a grudge, James chose to return to Cleveland, where he can raise his family year-round near his beloved hometown of Akron while trying to deliver the area its first world championship since the Browns won the NFL title in 1964.
“The more time passed, the more it felt right,” James wrote. “This is what makes me happy.”
But part of that healing process came in the meeting with Gilbert, which took place Sunday night in Miami.
“We had five great years together and one terrible night,” Gilbert told Yahoo! Sports. “I told him how sorry I was, expressed regret for how that night went and how I let all the emotion and passion for the situation carry me away. I told him I wish I had never done it, that I wish I could take it back.”
After cars were lined up on the street at James’ home outside of Akron on Thursday in anticipation of a possible announcement, the whole area burst into celebration Friday when the news broke.
Car horns honked as people filled the city streets in the Rust Belt city, one that has seen one stroke of bad luck after another befall it over the last half-century, including James leaving. But after James left, the Cavaliers have won three of the last four lotteries — netting them Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett and Anthony Wiggins — and now have James back in the fold.
“I never thought it would be a reality,” Larry Boothe, 25, told The Associated Press while holding a celebratory six-pack.
Cleveland made the final necessary moves Thursday morning to give James a maximum contract, finalizing a three-way trade with the Celtics and Nets to clear almost $10 million more in cap room, giving the Cavaliers more than enough space to land James and potentially more help around him.
Before his decision was announced, James reportedly reached out to both Heat president Pat Riley — whom he met with in Vegas earlier this week — and owner Micky Arison to tell them he would be leaving Miami.
“While I am disappointed by LeBron’s decision to leave Miami, no one can fault another person for wanting to return home,” Riley said in a statement. “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.”
But after getting over his disappointment, Riley sprang into action, convincing Bosh — who appeared on his way to Houston after James made his decision — to stay in Miami for five years and $118 million, and was expected to re-sign Wade soon, as well.
In the meantime, a flurry of transactions began to take place Friday afternoon, as once everyone knew where James was going, the dominoes began to fall as expected.
All of those moves were waiting on the James, the league’s most powerful person, to decide his future. On Friday, he let everyone know: The King is coming home.