After declining his $35.6 million player option for the 2018-19 season, LeBron James reached free agency for a third time in his career. In July 2010, he shocked the NBA world by signing with the Miami Heat.
Beyond leaving the franchise that selected him with the first overall pick in the 2003 Draft, James was moving on from his Ohio roots. The decision stung the fanbase and rankled Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.
He infamously wrote an open letter that denounced James and claimed the Cavs would win a championship before their former star did. James and the Heat won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.
The Cavaliers didn’t hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first and only time in franchise history 2016, and that was with James back in the fold.
Reaction to James leaving the Cavaliers via free agency for a second time is much more tempered. And that stretches to Gilbert, who wrote a goodbye letter in which he was kinder and appreciative of the 14-time All-Star, via the Cavaliers official website:
“We will always remember the evening of June 19, 2016 as the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, ended the 52-year drought delivering the long elusive championship that many thought they would never see… A championship that united generations of Clevelanders, both living and passed.
Virtually anyone with roots in Northeast Ohio paused and felt the memories of the past and the utter joy that the burden of the so-called ‘curse’ was finally a thing of the past. Cleveland, Ohio was the home of a championship team for the first time since 1964. Words do not express the meaning and the feeling this accomplishment brought to the people of Northeast Ohio.
None of this would have happened if LeBron James did not agree to come back home and lead the Cavaliers to the promised land. The entire Cavaliers franchise thanks LeBron for that precious moment and for all of the excitement he delivered as he led our team to four straight NBA Finals appearances.
LeBron is a family man, first. We wish his kids, his wife Savannah, his mother Gloria, and LeBron himself nothing but the best in the years and decades ahead. LeBron’s connection to Akron, Cleveland and all of Northeast Ohio will most certainly endure as his commitment to the region and his support of many important causes has been impactful to so many kids and families.
LeBron, you came home and delivered the ultimate goal. Nothing but appreciation and gratitude for everything you put into every moment you spent in a Cavaliers uniform. We look forward to the retirement of the famous #23 Cavs jersey one day down the line…”
Breaking from what had been his preferred option, James agreed to a more long-term contract with the Los Angeles Lakers: four years, with a player option after the third.
A secret meeting president of basketball operations Magic Johnson had with James and his representatives is being viewed as a significant moment to the Lakers landing their top free agency target.
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