The NBA’s version of “Game of Thrones” is settled: LeBron James is returning to the city where he was originally crowned “King”: Cleveland, Ohio.
The man who was drafted first overall in 2003 by the Cleveland Cavaliers will don the wine and gold once again, he told Sports Illustrated on Friday.
James, who is from Akron, Ohio, played for the Cavs from 2003-2010 before very publicly taking his talents to South Beach. Those talents helped Miami win the NBA Championship in 2012 and 2013.
Also read: LeBron James Opts Out of Miami Heat Contract
“Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio,” James told SI reporter Lee Jenkins. “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.”
“My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question,” James said. “But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.”
“I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there,” he continued. “I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But 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.”
That Miami move was announced in a controversial ESPN special titled “The Decision.”
James addressed that much-critiqued production in his personal essay: “Remember when I was sitting up there at the Boys & Girls Club in 2010? I was thinking, This is really tough. I could feel it. I was leaving something I had spent a long time creating. If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently, but I’d still have left. Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids. These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man.”
Following James’ 2010 departure, he and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert publicly feuded and fans staged demonstrations to show disappointment in their one-time “Chosen One.”
That beef appears to have been squashed in the name of winning basketball games, which is apparently all that matters for a city that could desperately use a major sports championship. Cleveland has not won a major professional sports championship since 1964.
On the subject of his relationship with Gilbert, James told Jenkins: “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,” James continued. “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?”
Last month, James’ Heat lost the NBA Finals in five games to the San Antonio Spurs. Shortly thereafter, James opted out of the remainder of his contract, leading to much speculation about a move.
Cleveland has been busy clearing salary cap space, making his former home an obvious frontrunner to land the best basketball player on the planet. James met with Miami Heat President Pat Riley on Wednesday in Las Vegas.
James is a 10-time NBA All-Star and four time league Most Valuable Player. He played high school hoops at St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron.
The once-again Cavalier concluded his SI piece: “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.”