James picks Heat; Cavs owner erupts

Updated: July 9, 2010, 5:56 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

LeBron James put the NBA on notice Thursday night, joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.

Ending weeks of will-he-or-won't-he speculation, the two-time MVP said Thursday night that he's decided to join the Heat and leave the Cavaliers after an unsuccessful seven-year quest for the ring he covets.

"I can't say it was always in my plans, because I never thought it was possible," James said on a made-for-LeBron live show on ESPN. "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. Those are two great players, two of the greatest players that we have in this game today."

Olympic teammates in Beijing, James, Bosh and Wade all helped deliver the gold.

This time, it'll be about a gold trophy: the NBA championship Wade got in 2006; the one that James and Bosh have yet to touch.

"Winning is a huge thing for me," James said from a studio in Greenwich, Conn., where an audience of kids from the Boys and Girls Club was present for the announcement.

James said on ESPN he has yet to work out a contract with Miami.

"Well, the numbers are not finalized. I think my agent, Leon Rose, will take care of that," James said. "But all three of us are ultimately going to take less money because we wanted to all play alongside each other, and we feel like we can be great together. And hopefully [Heat president] Pat [Riley] and the rest of those guys, [Heat owner] Micky [Arison], can bring some guys in to help us out, which we believe."

Sources told ESPN.com that Toronto and Miami are expected to finalize a sign-and-trade for Bosh by week's end. The Raptors would receive draft picks and a trade exception and Bosh would be able to land a six-year deal instead of five years thanks to the deal, according to sources.

It's a huge victory for the Heat, which got commitments from Wade and Bosh on Wednesday. That duo, along with James, formed the upper echelon of the most-celebrated free-agent period in league history.

Riley landed them all, a three-pack of stars to help shape his quest for a dynasty in Miami.

"There's magic in the number 3," Wade said, a nod to his jersey number.

One of the issues James faced was having the uniform No. 6 available to him in Miami.

A source told ESPN.com Friday that wouldn't be a problem.

James disclosed last season that he planned to switch his jersey number from No. 23 to No. 6 for the 2010-11 season as a tribute to Michael Jordan.

A league source told ESPN.com that Heat guard Mario Chalmers has already submitted a request to the league office to switch his jersey from No. 6 to No. 15 for next season.

No. 23 would not have been available to James in Miami, as the Heat have retired that number in honor of Jordan.

James jokingly told ESPN he would "give Mario a call and see if we can work something out."

Riley said in a statement the Heat were "thrilled" to add Bosh and James to a roster that already features Wade.

"We are looking forward to the opportunity of building something that our fans in Miami will be proud of for a long, long time," Riley said. "The journey is just beginning."

Gilbert I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER 'KING' WINS ONE.

-- Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert

And for Cleveland, a city scorned for generations by some of sports' biggest letdowns, James' long-awaited words represented a defeat perhaps unlike any other.

"And I look at it as -- it's a relationship. It was a relationship that I had with the organization, with that city," James said Friday morning in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" regarding Cleveland. "You know, you built a lot and you've done some things, you've done great things. You had the ups and downs. It's almost like a relationship you may have with a lady where you've been with that person for seven years and you've seen it all. You've grown together. You've been through the ups and downs. And one day you guys just don't see it the same way. You have to move on for the better. And that's how I feel. It hurts. It definitely hurts. It hurts me to say that I'm moving on. But I have to do what's best."

On Thursday James said he made the decision that morning and knew it wouldn't go over well in Ohio.

"They can have mixed emotions, of course," James said on ESPN, adding that Akron will "always be home for me."

Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert, in a letter to fans on the Cavs' website, never mentions James by name, only referring to his nicknames in quotes and lambasting his former superstar for the way he announced his decision.

"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.

"Clearly, this is bitterly disappointing to all of us," Gilbert said in the letter.

"The good news is that the ownership team and the rest of the hard-working, loyal, and driven staff over here at your hometown Cavaliers have not betrayed you nor NEVER will betray you."

Gilbert, who has owned the Cavs for five years, said James' decision was a "cowardly betrayal" and called James the "self-titled former 'King'" and promised the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft would be "taking the [Cleveland] 'curse' with him down south."

Despite James' departure, Gilbert guaranteed future success for his franchise.

"I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER 'KING' WINS ONE," Gilbert declared. "You can take it to the bank."

James' new home -- part-time or otherwise -- wasted no time in beginning the celebration. Horns honked outside the arena and on Miami Beach, where Wade was watching the announcement with members of his inner circle.

"It's going to be crazy," Wade said.

Bosh used Twitter to show his excitement, posting "It's madness out here! I'm on cloud 9 right now! This is like a dream come true to play with @dwadeofficial [Dwyane Wade] and @kingjames [LeBron James]!"

In Cleveland, the immediate reaction was predictably filled with outrage. "The Decision," the name of the prime-time, hour-long special James and his team of advisers brokered with ESPN, now joins "The Drive," "The Shot" and "The Fumble" in Cleveland's sports hall of shame.

Cleveland fans, so accustomed to disappointment, have been let down again -- this time by one of their sons.

Not long after James' decision was announced, one of his jerseys was shown being burned in the city's streets.

"I can't get involved in that," he 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."

Even one of James' former teammates was distraught.

"I feel like my heart has been pulled out," Cavs guard Mo Williams posted on his Twitter account. "But I'm happy for my friend."

Perhaps some of the outrage stems from James' final games in a Cleveland uniform. The Boston Celtics eliminated the Cavs in the second round of the playoffs, with some questioning Cleveland's -- and James' -- effort as Boston rallied from a 2-1 hole to win the series. Gilbert, in a phone interview with the Associated Press, said James quit on his team.

"He quit," Gilbert declared to the AP. "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.

Gilbert also said he believes James quit on the Cavs in Game 6 of their series in 2009 against Orlando.

"Go back and look at the tape," he told the AP. "How many shots did he take?"

Gilbert said James had gotten a "free pass" and that people had covered for him his entire career.

"LeBron James needs to go to another team with two superstars already so he can win a championship," Gilbert said to the AP. "We will win a championship before [the Heat] do."

The owner said James never returned a single phone message or text since the end of the season and that the Cavs were not informed of James' decision until he went on the air. Gilbert said Rich Paul, one of James' business partners, called the Cavs moments before the announcement.

In Miami, Wade said he was stunned by Gilbert's comments.

"I think I'm happy that I have the owner that I have here in Miami," Wade told the Associated Press. "I'm happy Micky Arison is my owner. I couldn't believe it. I'm speechless. It's very unfortunate and I think it makes LeBron that much better about his decision.

"We knew Bron would take some backlash," Wade added in his interview with AP. "I told him he's a strong man for it."

James' decision ends nearly two years of posturing and positioning by teams hoping to add the 6-foot-8, 260-pound physical force of nature to their roster. He famously announced at New York's Madison Square Garden in November 2008 that "July 1, 2010, is going to be a big day."

He wasn't kidding. When the clock struck 12:01 a.m. last Thursday, a free-agent frenzy unlike any before it -- in any professional sport -- began with the enough speculation, rumor and second-by-second intrigue to last a lifetime.

Last week, the Heat, Cavaliers, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers and Chicago Bulls converged on Cleveland to make their sales pitch to the league's most wanted man. The Cavs only had to drive across town to meet in the business offices of the local superstar, who grew up in a single-parent home in the Akron projects and has known no other pro basketball home.

The Cavs appealed to James' loyalty, his Buckeye roots and the fact this is where he is raising his two young sons. They hired Byron Scott as their new coach last week.

None of it worked.

"We believe in this team, this organization, this community, and what we will do to compete at the highest level," Cavs general manager Chris Grant said in a statement that did not mention James. "We believe in the new coach and leader we have in Byron Scott, and the world class basketball organization and positive and strong culture we've established."

New York devoted two years to trying to snare James.

"We are disappointed that LeBron James did not pick the New York Knicks, but we respect his decision," Knicks president Donnie Walsh said.

New Jersey couldn't land him despite having rapper Jay-Z, a good friend of James, as a part-owner.

"We have a vision of a championship team and need to invest wisely and for the long term," Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov said. "Fortunately, we have more than one plan to reach success, and, as I have found in all areas of my business, that is key to achieving it."

And Bulls general manager Gar Forman said he was convinced his organization "made the strongest of bids to acquire LeBron James during this free-agency period."

James, Bosh and Wade entered the pros in the same year, the respective Nos. 1, 4 and 5 picks in the 2003 draft. They went their separate ways: James to Cleveland, Bosh to Toronto and Wade to Miami, where he won a championship partnered with center Shaquille O'Neal in 2006. That year, James, Bosh and Wade signed matching contracts to make sure they were unrestricted free agents at the same time.

Season-ticket sales for the Heat's coming 41-game home slate were suspended Thursday afternoon after the entire supply of available seats was sold out. Not every seat has been released for sale yet and some will be held back for single-game purchases at the 19,600-capacity arena.

"I'll believe it when I see it," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said of a James-Wade-Bosh partnership while attending a tournament of high school stars at Cleveland State University, co-sponsored by James and Nike, one of the 25-year-old's corporate partners.

Believe it.

The Cavs, a franchise that was in ruins before winning a lottery drawing and bringing James up Interstate 77 from his Akron home, have had the upper hand -- until now. They were able to offer him more money -- $30 million more -- than any other team.

But James told ESPN it wasn't about the money.

"I easily could have taken the money, or I could have asked Cleveland to do a sign-and-trade and I could have got the six years and got the money," James said. "It wasn't about the money. It was about uniting with two guys, uniting with a franchise that I believe we can compete for not one year, but like I said, for these five years and maybe so on after that. So it had nothing to do with money."

Wade and Bosh both said they would take fewer dollars to make this happen. And that, combined with what Riley and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said to James on the recruiting tour, was enough to pull off the stunner.

"I am thrilled to welcome LeBron James to the Heat family," Wade said in a statement. "I look forward to playing alongside LeBron, Chris Bosh and our teammates, and together representing the great city of Miami. There's magic in the number 3. This is the beginning of [a] new chapter in Heat history and very exciting for both fans of the Miami Heat and the NBA."

Because they have overspent while trying to please James and win the first title by any of Cleveland's three pro sports teams since 1964, the Cavs are strapped with a few big contracts that have eaten up cap space and prevented them from making roster moves to improve.

They've come close to winning it all with James.

With the possible exception of Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, James is the NBA's premier player, but his legacy cannot be fulfilled until he wins a championship.

If it's going to happen soon, it'll happen in Miami.

Wade has shared the spotlight in the Heat locker room before, doing so when O'Neal was there for the 2006 title run. And James said that if Wade wasn't willing to make this megadeal happen, the trio wouldn't be together.

"D-Wade, he's the unselfish guy here," James said. "To be able to have Chris Bosh and LeBron James, to welcome us to his team, it's not about an individual here. It's about a team."

Now, it's up to Riley to build around his three superstars. With just two players under contract, Miami retained room to sign Bosh, Wade and James but lacks significant salary-cap space to fill out the remaining roster.

The Heat need seven more players to fill out their roster. They took De'Sean Butler, Jarvis Varnado and Dexter Pittman in the second round of June's NBA draft.

A source close to the situation told ESPN.com late Thursday the Heat agreed to trade Michael Beasley to the Minnesota Timberwolves for a 2011 second-round pick. Beasley was slated to make $5 million in 2010-11.

The Boston Celtics were able to supplement Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen three years ago by finding veterans such as P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell who were interested in signing on cheaply for a shot at a title, and that's likely what Miami will have to do.

Said the Knicks' Walsh: "I'd tell you what I would have done. My intention would be to go out and find out who wants to win a championship, a proven player at the end of his career, wants to be on a championship team and would take the minimum."

James was clear not to short his potential future teammates, telling ESPN that the Heat are far from a finished product.

"I feel like it's not a super team right now because the team -- we don't even have enough players to fill the roster. And a team is not built on just three guys or two guys or one guy," James said after making one of the most analyzed decisions in the history of free agency.

"A team is built on all the way to the top and the owner and the gym, and the guys that's in the film room to make sure the guys are prepared, to the guys on the floor, to the guys, the custodian or the people in ticket sales. A team and a championship team is not built on just three guys or just one superstar. It's built on the whole organization and everybody having the same goal and the same goal in mind."

James said he was donating all the advertising proceeds from the televised show to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Akron, Cleveland, New York, Chicago and Miami.

Gilbert, however, lampooned the example James was setting for children with his choice.

"This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown 'chosen one' sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And 'who' we would want them to grow up to become," Gilbert said.

Information from ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan, Marc Stein and Chad Ford, and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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