LeBron snubs Cleveland, picks Heat
See ya, Cleveland.
Sorry, Chicago, New York and New Jersey. Maybe next time around, Clippers.
LeBron James chose superstar help over the comforts of home and is heading for Miami because he wants to win a championship with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
NBA, get ready: A superstar trio has just been born.
Ending weeks of will-he-or-won’t-he speculation, the two-time MVP said Thursday night that he’s decided to join the Heat and leave the Cavaliers after an unsuccessful seven-year quest for the ring he covets.
“I can’t say it was always in my plans, because I never thought it was possible,” James said on a made-for-Lebron live show on ESPN. “But the things that the Miami Heat franchise have done, to free up cap space and be able to put themselves in a position this summer to have all three of us, it was hard to turn down. Those are two great players, two of the greatest players that we have in this game today.”
Olympic teammates in Beijing, James, Bosh and Wade all helped deliver gold medals.
This time, it’ll be about a gold trophy, the NBA championship one – the one Wade got in 2006, the one that James and Bosh have yet to touch.
“Winning is a huge thing for me,” James said from a studio in Greenwich, Conn., where an audience of kids from the Boys and Girls club was present for the announcement.
It’s a huge victory for the Heat, which got commitments from Wade and Bosh on Wednesday. That duo, along with James, formed the upper echelon of the most-celebrated free-agent period in league history.
Heat president Pat Riley landed them all, a three-pack of stars to help shape his quest for a dynasty in Miami.
“There’s magic in the number three,” Wade said, a nod to his jersey number.
And for Cleveland, a city scorned for generations by some of sports’ biggest letdowns, James’ long-awaited words represented a defeat perhaps unlike any other.
James is gone. Home sweet home no more.
He said he made the decision Thursday morning and knows it won’t go over well in Ohio.
“They can have mixed emotions, of course,” James said, adding that Akron will “always be home for me.”
His new home – part-time or otherwise – wasted no time in beginning the celebration. Horns honked outside the arena and on Miami Beach, where Wade was watching the announcement with members of his inner circle.
“It’s going to be crazy,” Wade said.
In Cleveland, the immediate reaction was predictably filled with outrage. Television images showed at least one fan burning James’ No. 23 wine-and-gold jersey.
“I can’t get involved in that,” he said. “I wanted to do what was best for LeBron James … At the end of the day, I feel awful. I feel even worse that I wasn’t able to bring an NBA championship to that city.
“To my real fans out there, I hope that you’ll continue to support me all the way to Miami.”
James met with six teams on the free-agent recruiting circuit, and said the process was “everything I thought, and more.”
“We are disappointed that LeBron James did not pick the New York Knicks, but we respect his decision,” Knicks president Donnie Walsh said.
Added Mikhail Prokhorov, the new owner of the New Jersey Nets, another club that swung and missed on landing James: “We have a vision of a championship team and need to invest wisely and for the long term. Fortunately, we have more than one plan to reach success, and, as I have found in all areas of my business, that is key to achieving it.”
And Bulls general manager Gar Forman said he was convinced his organization “made the strongest of bids to acquire LeBron James during this free agency period.”
James, Bosh and Wade entered the pros in the same year, the respective Nos. 1, 4 and 5 picks in the 2003 draft. They went their separate ways: James to Cleveland, Bosh to Toronto and Wade to Miami, where he won a championship partnered with center Shaquille O’Neal in 2006. That year, James, Bosh and Wade all signed matching contracts to make sure they were all unrestricted free agents at the same time.
Season-ticket sales for the Heat’s coming 41-game season were suspended Thursday afternoon after the entire supply of available seats were sold out. Not every seat has been released for sale yet and some will be held back for single-game purchases at the 19,600-capacity arena.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said while attending a tournament of high school stars at Cleveland State University, co-sponsored by James and Nike, one of the 25-year-old’s corporate partners.
The Cavaliers, a franchise that was in ruins before winning a lottery drawing and bringing James up Interstate 77 from his Akron home, have had the upper hand – until now. They were able to offer him more money – $30 million more – than any other team.
This wasn’t about money, though.
Wade and Bosh both said they would take fewer dollars to make this happen. And that, combined with what Riley and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said to James on the recruiting tour, was enough to pull off the stunner.
Because they have overspent while trying to please James and win the first title by any of Cleveland’s three pro sports teams since 1964, the Cavs are strapped with a few big contracts that have eaten up salary-cap space and prevented them from making roster moves to improve the team.
They’ve come close to winning it all with James, who at 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds has the quickness of a point guard and brute force of an NFL defensive lineman.
With the possible exception of Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, James is the NBA’s premier player, but his legacy cannot be fulfilled until he wins a championship.
If it’s going to happen soon, it’ll happen in Miami.
Wade has shared the spotlight in the Heat locker room before, doing so when O’Neal was there for the 2006 title run. And James said that if Wade wasn’t willing to make this megadeal happen, the trio wouldn’t be together.
“At this point, D-Wade, he’s the unselfish guy here,” James said. “To be able to have Chris Bosh and LeBron James, to welcome us to his team, it’s not about an individual here. Because if that was the case, D-Wade wouldn’t have asked us to join him or we wouldn’t have asked him if it was OK to come down here. It’s not about individuals. It’s about a team.”
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