The National Basketball Association’s most coveted free agent, LeBron James, is leaving his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers and heading west – to Los Angeles. The announcement was made via tweet by his agency, Klutch Sports Group.
“LeBron James, four time NBA MVP, three time NBA finals MVP, fourteen time NBA All Star, and two time Olympic gold medalist has agreed to a four year, $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers,” the statement read.
It was sent at about 8 P.M. last night.
The announcement sent shock waves throughout the NBA, and all of American professional sports, as James, the NBA’s most dominant player, alters the landscape of the League with whatever team he chooses to play for.
A native of Akron, Ohio, James left the Cavaliers once before playing a four-year stint with the Miami Heat. He then resigned with Cleveland in 2014.
He led Cleveland to its first NBA Championship in 2016, bringing the city its first professional sports championship in 52 years.
The split in 2010 between James and the Cavaliers was marked by bitterness and animosity, with many fans burning James’ jerseys in public and team owner Dan Gilbert pillorying James and his decision to leave in a letter to Cleveland fans.
“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. 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,” Gilbert wrote.
“You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal,” Gilbert added. “You have given so much and deserve so much more.”
This time around, the departure seems to be much more amicable.
“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,” Gilbert wrote in a statement released last night.
“None of this would have happened if LeBron James did not agree to come back home and lead the Cavaliers to the promised land…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…” he added.
James thanked Ohioans for their support over the last four seasons in a succinct statement on his Instagram account. “Thank you Northeast Ohio for an incredible 4 seasons. This will always be home,” he wrote.
James’ four-year contract with the Lakers is worth a reported $153.3 million. James will turn 34 at the end of this year, meaning this contract will likely take him through the prime of his career to what will be either the end or near-end of his playing days.
James has reached the Finals for a remarkable eight straight years, but he has been thwarted in his last two Finals appearances (and in three of the last four) by the Golden State Warriors.
It’s believed this move will put him in a position to challenge that team for NBA supremacy as one-time Laker great “Magic” Johnson is now head of basketball operations with the Lakers and is trying to restore the team to former glory.
The Lakers finished in eleventh place (out of fifteen) in the NBA’s Western Conference this year. It’s been 8 years since the franchise has won an NBA Championship and five years since it has made the playoffs.
Lakers controlling partner Jeanie Buss has said she has faith in Johnson along with General Manager Rob Pelinka to turn the Lakers into a winning franchise once again, but also said last week that she expects the Lakers to return to the postseason at the end of the upcoming season.
A goal the franchise got one step closer to achieving with the signing of James.
Photo by Erik Drost via Flickr