LeBron to sign extension worth up to $80M
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James won't be leaving home anytime soon.
Cleveland's All-Star forward agreed Saturday to sign a contract extension of up to five years and worth as much as $80 million with the Cavaliers, a huge relief for the rising team and its fretting fans who worried he might be planning an escape.
James, who in three seasons as a pro has turned the Cavaliers from doormats into NBA title contenders, will sign the deal after the league's moratorium ends Wednesday, said his agent Leon Rose.
"I am very excited and happy to be re-signing with the Cavaliers. Staying in Cleveland ... provides me with the unique opportunity to continue to play in front of my family, friends and fans," James said in a statement released by his publicist. "I look forward to working toward bringing a championship to our great fans and the city of Cleveland."
Unlike some of his fellow 2003 draft classmates, James waited one week after the team made the offer before announcing his intention to take the deal. The delay since July 1 had Cleveland fans, who have been burned by broken promises before, fearing the worst.
But as he has always done, the 21-year-old from nearby Akron came through in the clutch.
Ever the showman, James let the drama build before agreeing to a deal that will start after the 2007 season and could run through 2011-12.
James will make $5.8 million next season, the final year on his rookie contract. The exact amount of James' extension won't be known until later this summer when the league determines the salary cap for next season.
James, who wasn't eligible for restricted free agency until after next season, has said for months that he loves playing in Cleveland and wants to help win the Cavaliers their first NBA championship.
Usually the first to do things, James was behind Denver's Carmelo Anthony and Toronto's Chris Bosh, who have already announced their intent to sign extensions. Miami's Dwyane Wade, the NBA Finals MVP, is still negotiating with the Heat about his contract.
Almost from the moment the club selected him with the No. 1 overall pick three years ago, insecure Cleveland fans have worried about a day when James would bolt for a bigger paycheck and brighter spotlight in a booming market such as New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.
That fear was well founded since big-name athletes like Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Carlos Boozer all left Cleveland as free agents despite saying they would stay. It didn't help that James often wears a New York Yankees baseball cap, a fashion accessory looked upon as blasphemous in Northeast Ohio.
James, though, kept his word. And at least for now, he plans to stay with Cleveland. He has said repeatedly that he wants to bring the city its first world championship since the Browns won an NFL title in 1964 -- three years before there was even a Super Bowl and 20 years before James' birth.
Following the Cavaliers' impressive run in this year's NBA playoffs, that title might not be far off.
Rose said he hopes to have the deal signed before James reports July 19 to training camp for the U.S. team playing in this summer's World Championships.
With James' extension looming, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert did everything he could to keep the superstar happy.
Last summer, the club spent millions on free agents Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones and re-signed center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a player James personally campaigned to keep. In addition, Gilbert renovated Quicken Loans Arena, upgrading the Cavs' locker room and remodeling a family area partly to accommodate the overflow of James supporters at every home game.
The club also is building a high-tech, $20 million training facility in Independence, a short drive from James' suburban home.
At 21, James has more scored more points, handed out more assists and grabbed more rebounds at a younger age than any player in history.
Last season, the 6-foot-8 standout became just the fourth player to average at least 31 points, seven rebounds and six assists, joining an elite group with Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Michael Jordan. He was named the youngest All-Star game MVP in history, and he finished runner-up to Phoenix's Steve Nash for league MVP honors.
James led the Cavs to 50 regular-season wins and carried them back to the NBA playoffs for the first time since 1998. He recorded a triple-double in his first postseason game against Washington and averaged 30.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists as Cleveland advanced past the Wizards before losing in seven games to Detroit in the second round.
Off the floor, James' No. 23 jersey is everywhere and he's easily Cleveland's most recognized athlete since Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown ran roughshod over NFL defenses for the Browns.
Last season, Nike hung a 10-story banner of a dunking James with the phrase "We Are All Witnesses" written across it on a building across the street from the Cavs' arena.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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