LeBron James is taking his talents back to Cleveland.
In one of the biggest free agent signings in history — perhaps surpassing even James’ move to Miami in 2010 — James announced Friday in a first-person account on Sports Illustrated’s website that he was re-joining the Cavaliers, who drafted him in 2003 and rode his coattails to their only NBA Finals appearance four years later.
Fans who rioted in the streets and set James jerseys on fire just four years ago are rejoicing as if their team just won a title.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. James Ended Weeks of Speculation by Announcing the Move Friday on Sports Illustrated’s Website
James had kept the entire sports world guessing for weeks over whether he would stay in Miami or return to Cleveland.
There was rampant speculation Thursday that James would announce a return to Cleveland, but when the afternoon came and went without an announcement, betting odds in Las Vegas shifted drastically in favor of Miami.
But early Friday afternoon, Sports Illustrated posted a first-person account, as told to senior writer Lee Jenkins, announcing he was coming home.
Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.
Speculation was building Thursday that James would announce his decision on his website. Instead, the site Friday merely featured a subtle link to the Sports Illustrated essay.
2. James’ Instagram Post About Coming Home Went Viral Immediately
After the Sports Illustrated essay went live, James posted the Instagram photo above, featuring a photo of him in a Cavs jersey and the phrase “I’m coming home.” Within minutes, it had more than 130,000 likes.
He also posted the tweet below with nothing other than a link to the SI piece and got more than 20,000 re-tweets and 12,000 favorites.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) July 11, 2014
3. James Said He’s Reconciled With Owner Dan Gilbert
ESPN reported Friday morning that one of the factors holding up James’ decision was lingering resentment over a public letter written in 2010 by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who called James a coward and questioned his loyalty.
But James wrote in the SI essay Friday that he and Gilbert had made up.
To make the move I needed the support of my wife and my mom, who can be very tough. The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned — seeing all that was hard for them. My emotions were more mixed. It was easy to say, “OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.” But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?
Gilbert welcomed James back on Twitter.
Welcome Home @kingjames. I am excited for the fans and people of Cleveland and Ohio. No fans and people deserve a winner more than them…..
— Dan Gilbert (@cavsdan) July 11, 2014
My 8-year-old: "Daddy, does this mean I can finally wear my Lebron jersey, again?"…Yes it does, son. Yes it does!
— Dan Gilbert (@cavsdan) July 11, 2014
4. The Cavs Cleared the Cap Space They Needed to Make Room for James
The Cavs have cleared the salary cap space needed to offer James a max contract worth $20.7 million per year.
In order to make this possible, the Cavs gave away Sergei Karasev, Jarrett Jack, Tyler Zeller and their first-round pick in the 2016 draft in a trade with the Nets and Celtics.
Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted Thursday afternoon that the Cavs pressed Celtics and Nets officials to complete paperwork on the teams’ three-way trade “immediately” to clear up cap space:
Cavs pressed Celtics/Nets officials to complete paperwork on 3-way trade in last hour, needed it done “immediately.” Cap space is clear now.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 10, 2014
James and Paul were meeting with Heat president Pat Riley Wednesday, ESPN’s Chris Broussard reported.
The direction of the Heat franchise will be drastically altered by James’ decision, both because of James’ own value and the implications the move will have on Bosh.
Source: After meeting with Pat Riley today, LeBron James & Rich Paul will not meet with any more teams. LJ will talk w/family & make choice.
— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 10, 2014
5. The Cavs Are on Their Way Up and the Heat Are On Their Way Down
James led Cleveland to its only NBA Finals appearance in 2007, when the Cavs were swept by Tim Duncan and the Spurs. And although the Cavs have been awful since James left, the ingredients are there for them to quickly get back into contention.
Cleveland already has a rising star in Kyrie Irving and has another superstar-in-the-making in Andrew Wiggins, whom they took with the top pick in last month’s draft.
With Irving and Wiggins set to move into their primes as James gets older, the team could be set up for a run similar to that accomplished in San Antonio, where Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker were coming into their primes just as Tim Duncan’s skills were starting to decline.
James opted out of his contract with the Miami Heat last month with two years and about $43 million left on the contract he signed in the 2010-11 offseason.
James, who famously predicted the Heat would win “not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4 …” titles in Miami, had a partially successful tenure with the Heat. He, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh led the team to four straight NBA Finals appearances, winning the middle two while losing the first and last.
The Heat were embarrassed in this year’s Finals, losing to the San Antonio Spurs in five games in a rematch of the 2013 series in which the Heat won in seven. If the Heat had won the series, Lebron’s decision would be a different story.