LeBron James is going home -- but Chris Bosh will remain in Miami to pick up the pieces.
James, who left Cleveland for Miami in 2010 in search of championship success with Bosh and Dwyane Wade and found it twice over, confirmed Friday he's returning to the team where he started his career, the Cavaliers.
James, a native of Akron, Ohio, broke the news of his decision with a personal essay published by SI.com. The poignant letter explained James' love for Miami and respect for the Heat organization, but also put to words a deep sense of responsibility owed to his hometown. Leaving Cleveland had certainly weighed on his conscience over the past four years, and the letter indicated James had found peace with himself.
"My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn't realize that four years ago. I do now," James wrote.
James' decision had put the Heat's free agency plans on hold for several intense days, but the rebuilding process moved quickly for team president Pat Riley after the stunning announcement. It didn't take long for Bosh -- who all along said he wanted to stay in Miami -- to sign off on a return to the Heat with what Yahoo! Sports reported was a five-year, $118 million deal.
Wade and Udonis Haslem were expected to re-sign with the Heat as well.
Of course, Bosh's return was only a consolation prize to the day's big loss. James finished his essay on SI.com by explaining he wanted to set a good example for the children in Northeast Ohio by returning to the region. Northeast Ohio and Rust Belt in general have struggled with population decline for decades. When James left Cleveland for Miami, it was a symbolic move of a systemic problem.
"My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I'm from," James said. "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."
James said in his letter that he "will always think of Miami as my second home."
Back in that second home, James' decision to leave Miami took the Heat by surprise. At the beginning of free agency, many inside the franchise were confident James would return to the Heat. Riley famously told anyone who would listen "to get a grip" in a news conference before the start of free agency.
In the minutes after James' decision went public, though, it seemed like the Heat was trying grasp what had just happened.
"I am shocked & disappointed in today's news," Heat owner Micky Arison said on Twitter. "However I will never forget what LeBron brought us for 4 years. Thanks for memories @KingJames."
It was a classy message from Arison, whose basketball franchise benefited greatly from James' four years with the team. James led the Heat to back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013 and helped the team reach the NBA Finals four years in a row. During that time he elevated the profile of the city, moved the Heat into the upper echelon of NBA franchises and gave the Miami its single greatest run by a professional sports team.
In a press release, the Miami Downtown Development Authority credited James with helping rebuild the area.
"Downtown Miami's resurgence was well underway before The Big 3 arrived, gained momentum alongside four consecutive championship runs, and won't be slowing down anytime soon," said executive director Alyce Robertson. "LeBron's decision to take his talents to downtown Miami in 2010 was rocket fuel for our city's global brand, and we're grateful for his contributions over the past four years."
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