POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 9, 2010
Ending the greatest recruiting war in NBA history -- and his careerlong honeymoon -- Lebron James announced yesterday he'll sign with the Miami Heat, leaving a smoking crater in Cleveland.
James didn't go for the most money, spurning $128 million in Cleveland for $99 million in Miami.
He didn't insist on having his own team, joining a superstar ensemble in Wade County, which was Dade County before it was temporarily renamed to help keep Dwyane Wade.
After seven seasons of carrying Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao and Co., James now has 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."
James spent last week trying to get Bosh or Amare Stoudemire to join him. Only after Bosh turned down a sign-and-trade did James turn toward Miami.
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.
So while Miami is building a dynasty, Cleveland is devastated.
In a city scorned for generations by some of sports' biggest letdowns, James' leaving represented a defeat perhaps unlike any other.
"The Decision," the name of the prime-time, hourlong special James and his team of advisers brokered with ESPN, now joins "The Drive," "The Shot," "The Fumble" and "The Move" in Cleveland's sports hall of shame.
Humiliated and heartbroken, the fans in Cleveland turned their backs on James as suddenly as he had abandoned them. They tore his once-beloved No. 23 jersey off their backs and set them on fire. They threw rocks at a 10-story-tall billboard that features James with his head tossed back, arms pointing skyward. The billboard has come to define this city and its all-consuming reverence for the man they called The King: "We Are All Witnesses," it says.
Angered and betrayed, owner Dan Gilbert accused the NBA's MVP of quitting during the playoffs.
Gilbert, who posted a letter to Cavs fans on the team's website shortly after James announced his plans to sign with the Heat, told the Associated Press late last night that it's "accountability time" for James.
"He has gotten a free pass," Gilbert said in a phone interview with the AP. "People have covered up for (James) for way too long. Tonight we saw who he really is."
Gilbert feels James quit on the Cavs during their second-round series against the Boston Celtics, who rallied from a 2-1 deficit to eliminate Cleveland.
"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."
The Cavaliers were beaten by 32 points in Game 5. During the game, James appeared distracted and uninterested, often glaring at Cleveland's coaches as the Cavs tried to foul to get back into the game in the second half. James also made some puzzling postgame comments, saying he had "spoiled" people with his play over seven seasons.
"I can't get involved in that," James 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. I never wanted to leave Cleveland. My heart will always be around that area. But I also felt like this is the greatest challenge for me, is to move on."