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LeBron James Returns to Cleveland and Makes Dan Gilbert a Lucky Man

Lebron James
Lebron JamesPhotograph by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

LeBron James will play for the Cleveland Cavaliers next season. The biggest prize of this year’s free agents announced in a statement at Sports Illustrated that he will return to the team where he played the first seven years of his career. James’s homecoming is the bookend for a four-year stint with the Miami Heat, during which he made four trips to the NBA finals and won two. The decision, and the way he delivered it, will make an instant and profound impact on the competitive balance of the league, the choices of other free agents in the market, James’s ever-shifting reputation, the emotional life of the city of Cleveland, and the fortune of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.

When James left the Cavaliers four years ago, he endured a torrent of criticism—for abandoning his hometown team, for joining two other established stars, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and for making his announcement in a drawn-out live TV special on ESPN. Today’s statement stands in sharp and explicit contrast. In 952 words told to SI reporter Lee Jenkins, James delivered a love letter to Northeast Ohio and a gentle self-rebuke for the hurt he caused last time around, when Cleveland fans burned his jerseys in the streets.