GREENWICH, CT (AP) Lebron James has walked away from the comforts of home in Ohio to chase and NBA championship in Florida.
Perhaps the most hysterically-hyped free agent in sports history, James announced Thursday night on national TV that he plans to leave Cleveland to join the Miami Heat for a chance to play with Olympic teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
“I can’t say it was always in my plans, because I never thought it was possible,” said James, who wrestled with his decision for weeks. “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.”
Ending weeks of round-the-clock speculation, the two-time MVP said he was uncertain until the eleventh hour before deciding that the only way he could fulfill his dreams of winning multiple championships was to leave his home state and a city that hasn’t sprayed championship champagne in 46 years.
“It’s going to give me the best opportunity to win,” James said. “We’re going to be a real good team.”
That’s not what Cleveland wanted to hear.
Fans poured out of the same downtown bars and restaurants that have thrived with James around in frustration moments after the announcement. A few set fire to his No. 23 jersey while others threw rocks at the 10-story-tall billboard featuring James with his head tossed back and arms pointing skyward.
This was something Cleveland never thought it would see.
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert posted an open letter to fans on the team’s website ripping James and told The Associated Press he believes James did not play up to his abilities in Cleveland’s second-round loss to Boston.
“He quit,” Gilbert said. “Not just in Game 5, but in Games 2, 4 and 6. Watch the tape. The Boston series was unlike anything in the history of sports for a superstar. … People have covered up for him for way too long.”
Not Gilbert, not anymore.
“As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier,” Gilbert wrote. “This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his ‘decision’ unlike anything ever ‘witnessed’ in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment. Clearly, this is bitterly disappointing to all of us.”
When the clock struck 12:01 a.m. last Thursday, a free-agent frenzy unlike any before it _ in any professional sport _ got under way with the enough speculation, rumor and second-by-second intrigue to last a lifetime.
James, Wade and Bosh were wined and dined by suitors who spared no expense to make them feel special. It was billionaires chasing millionaires, and depending on your view, it was either a shining moment for the NBA or a travesty.
It’s a huge victory for the Heat, which got Wade and Bosh, a five-time All-Star with the Toronto Raptors, to agree to take less money on Wednesday so James could join them. Heat president Pat Riley was able to corral the top three stars in an unprecedented free-agent class.