LeBron Chooses Miami, Drastically Changes NBA Landscape
LeBron James put an end to months of conjecture Thursday night, telling a national audience he has decided to sign with the Miami Heat and join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the pursuit of an NBA title.
James announced his decision during a one-hour special on ESPN, which was unironically called "The Decision."
After 20 minutes of hypothesis from ESPN analysts, James sat down with reporter Jim Gray and announced the winner of the biggest free agent sweepstakes in NBA history: "This fall, I'm going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat."
With those words, cheers ensued in Miami; heads dropped in Cleveland, New York, Chicago and New Jersey; and the NBA landscape was drastically changed.
Suddenly a super team was born. James, Wade and Bosh: the new Big Three.
Terms of James' new deal were not released -- in fact he said the terms hadn't even been sorted out yet -- but he made it clear that he, Wade and Bosh will be taking pay cuts in order to play together.
James was adament in post-announcement interviews that winning was the biggest factor in his decision to leave Cleveland, where he spent the first seven seasons of his career and won two MVP awards, but that seemed little consolation for Cavaliers fans. ESPN cameras captured James' former "witnesses" burning his jersey in the street, and Cavs-affiliated message boards and blogs were filled with vengeful, sometimes racist, comments.
The biggest dose of vitriol, however, came from Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.
Gilbert attacked James in a stunningly unprofessional open letter published on the Cavaliers' website. The owner called James' decision a "cowardly betrayal" and declared that Cleveland would win a title before Miami.
He ended the letter with a Ruth-ian curse:
The self-declared former "King" will be taking the "curse" with him down south. And until he does "right" by Cleveland and Ohio, James (and the town where he plays) will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma.
James seemed prepared for the backlash, saying multiple times that his "real" fans would understand the decision and that he was doing what was best for him with the blessing of those closest to him. He was clearly affected, though, when ESPN analysts interrupted a round of questions to show him footage of fans burning his jersey.
That wasn't the only time James' decision appeared to weigh heavily on him.
Gray set him up for a number of jokes leading into the announcement, but James anxiously batted away each attempt. Later, he expressed regret for not delivering a championship to his home state but stressed that it was time for him to move on to new challenges and new opportunities.
One of those challenges will be filling the remainder of Miami's roster.
General manager Pat Riley has his work cut out for him in that respect.
James, Wade and Bosh have all thrown their hats in the ring, but the Heat officially have just one player, Mario Chalmers, on their roster now that forward Michael Beasley has reportedly been traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for draft picks. It will be no easy task fitting 10-11 NBA contracts around the money coming to James, Wade and Bosh. Even if those three take less than max money, Miami will be limited to cheap options to fill the holes in their roster.
The Heat hold the rights to second round draft picks Dexter Pittman, Jarvis Varnado and Da'Sean Butler, but none of those players have been signed to contract yet.
It will interesting to see who Riley surrounds his newly minted Big Three with, but that's hardly the leading storyline at the moment.
Right now, it's all about James.
The King has arrived in Miami and completely shifted the balance of power in the East.
For better or worse, the NBA will never be the same.
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