LeBron James is going home – but Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade will remain in Miami to pick up the pieces.
James broke the news of his decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday with a personal essay published by SI.com. The poignant letter defended James’ decision to come to Miami and expressed his respect for the Heat organization, but also put to words a deep sense of responsibility owed to his hometown.
“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now,” James wrote.
James’ pending 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, Wade and Udonis Haslem to sign off on returns to the Heat.
Bosh – who all along said he wanted to stay in Miami but was considered by many a lock to sign with Houston after James’ departure – agreed to stay with the Heat and will get a five-year deal worth a reported $118 million. Deals were also being worked out for Wade and Haslem.
“While I am disappointed by LeBron’s decision to leave Miami, no one can fault another person for wanting to return home,” Riley wrote in an official statement released by the team. “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.”
Riley then looked ahead.
“Over the last 19 years, since Micky [Arison] and I teamed together, the Miami Heat has always been a championship organization; we’ve won multiple championships and competed for many others. Micky, Erik [Spoelstra] and I remain committed to doing whatever it takes to win and compete for championships for many years to come. We’ve proven that we can do it and we’ll do it again.”
James said in his letter that he “will always think of Miami as my second home.”
James’ decision apparently took the Heat by surprise. At the beginning of free agency, many inside the franchise were confident James would stay. Riley famously told anyone who would listen to “get a grip” in a news conference before the start of free agency.
When James’ decision went public, though, it seemed like the Heat was trying to grasp what had just happened.
“I am shocked & disappointed in today’s news,” 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 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 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,” executive director Alyce Robertson said. “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.”
Wade, who brought Bosh and James to Miami four years ago and helped keep Haslem in the fold, attempted to engineer magic at the 11th hour for the Heat on Thursday. He attended James’ basketball camp in Las Vegas and then flew back to Miami with James on Thursday night. At that point, the around-the-clock coverage of the Heat’s saga appeared to be playing out positively for Miami. But behind the scenes, James had already made up his mind. He was going home.
Dan Gilbert, the Cavaliers’ owner who famously called James a “coward” among other things when James left Cleveland for Miami, secretly met with James in Miami last week for several hours, according to a report by Yahoo! Sports. During that meeting, Gilbert and James worked through long-standing differences.
After that meeting, all that was left for James to do was think over his options and see what the Heat could do to restock its roster. Either the Heat didn’t do enough, or it didn’t matter. Riley added power forward Josh McRoberts from Charlotte and oft-injured veteran Danny Granger. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers have restocked their roster since James’ departure in 2010 with a series of No. 1 draft picks.