The addition of James is the third major move the Heat have made this summer. In addition to bringing back six-time All-Star Dwyane Wade, Miami has also agreed to contract terms with five-time All-Star Chris Bosh. Now the three kingpins of this year's free-agent market will combine forces to try to win a championship together.
James, the two-time reigning MVP, has yet to win his first NBA title, and it's clear the desire to win one played heavily into choosing Miami over staying with Cleveland.
After months of speculation and a week of deliberating after meeting with six prospective teams, James revealed that he didn't make up his mind until the final day.
"I decided this morning," he said. "I went day to day. I wake up one morning, it's this team. I wake up another morning, it's this team. ... But this morning I woke up, had a great conversation with my mom. Once I had that conversation with her, I think I was set."
Multiple reports Thursday morning leaked James' plan to join Wade and Bosh in Miami. The stars even reportedly talked about the possibility of it happening during a "summit" in late June.
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On Wednesday, Bosh said that he chose to sign with Miami even though he didn't know if LeBron was on board yet. "I wasn't sure if LeBron was coming back [to Cleveland] and I just wanted to leave that decision up to him," Bosh said. "I wanted to choose the best situation for me and my family and Miami was the best decision for me."
In the end, it was the chance to join forces with Wade and Bosh, forming one of the greatest collection of superstars in their prime that the NBA has ever seen, that sealed the deal.
"I feel like it's going to give me the best opportunity to win and to win for multiple years, and not only just to win in the regular season or just to win five games in a row or three games in a row, I want to be able to win championships. And I feel like I can compete down there."
James also praised Wade for stepping aside and sharing the limelight in Miami.
"You know, at this point D-Wade, he's the unselfish guy here," said James. "To be able to have Chris Bosh and then LeBron James, to welcome us to his team, it's not about an individual here. Because if that was the case, D-Wade wouldn't have asked us to join him, or we wouldn't have asked him if it was okay to come down there. It's not about individuals. It's about a team, and that's what this game is about."
In anticipation of LeBron's big move, Miami Heat season tickets sold out overnight. The Miami Herald reported that "no tickets were available for the 2010-2011 season on the team's website as of 11:15 a.m. Thursday."
While fans in Miami will likely enjoy watching the the trifecta of James, Wade and Bosh compete for multiple championships over the next half decade -- Vegas quickly dubbed the Heat the overwhelming favorite for the 2010-11 title shortly after Thursday's announcement -- James leaves behind a tortured fanbase all too familiar with gut-wrenching disappointment, a fact not lost upon the departing superstar.
"I mean, it's heartfelt for me," he said. "You know, it's hard to explain, but at the same time my heart, in the seven years I gave to that franchise, to that city, it was everything.
"I mean, those 20,000 plus fans that came out every night we played, and they seen me grow from an 18-year-old kid to a 25-year-old man. And I never wanted to leave Cleveland. And my heart will always be around that area. But I also felt like this is the greatest challenge for me is to move on."
He later added, "I know it's emotional for the fans and also for the area. And if it was a perfect world, I would have loved to stay, because I've done so many great things for that team, they've done so many great things for me. But I feel like it's time to change."
No matter how jilted fans in Cleveland may feel, they can't accuse James of leaving for money, not when you consider the NBA's collective bargaining agreement gave the Cavaliers the right to sign him for an extra year with greater annual raises than any other team in the league.
"It had nothing to do about money for me," he said. "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. 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."
Contractually, the process that led to this change began after the 2005-06 season. James, who had won his first playoff series (against Washington) but couldn't lead the Cavs past Detroit in the second round, opted to sign an extension for three guaranteed years instead of five to leave himself the freedom for this very purpose. He wanted Free Agency 2010 to be an unprecedented circus, and even collaborated with fellow 2003 draft picks Wade and Bosh in the plan as they signed nearly-identical extensions.
"This process has been everything I've thought and more," said James. "And that's what I did a few years ago; I put myself in a position to have this process where I can hear teams' pitches and figure out what was the best possible chance for me to ultimately win and to ultimately be happy."
But James' journey had truly began on Oct. 29, 2003, when James' NBA debut at Arco Arena in Sacramento showed just how bright his spotlight would be and how he would never turn away. One of the league's smallest market was on the biggest stage, with James trailed by media members at every turn before facing the Kings and lost amid a mass of reporters at midcourt as he stretched before tip-off.
He welcomed the attention then, even as a 19-year-old who looked nothing like the specimen of a man he would become. That trend continued throughout his career. Before home games at Quicken Loans Arena, the self-anointed King would hold court with the media outside the Cavaliers locker room as if he was the coach.
But his phenomenal play quieted those fans and media who complained that he was overhyped. That assertion was certainly true, but the annual All-Star berths (six in all) and eventual MVP awards (two) came close to matching the endless mania that surrounded him. Those voices are back now, though, having grown tired of the James-driven spectacle that will end with the most important questions at hand unanswered.
Is he great?
Is he a champion?
James, whose only Finals appearance came in 2007 when his Cavs were swept by San Antonio, missed his chance at the right kind of free agency run-up during last season's playoffs. No moment was worse than his unforgettably-listless performance in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston, when he shot 3 of 14 from the field and scored 15 points in the 120-88 blowout, the Celtics seizing a 3-2 series lead before finishing the Cavs in Game 6.
In the wake of Thursday's announcement, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who already skewered James in a vicious letter to his fans, told the Associated Press that he believes James simply gave up during that series.
"He quit," Gilbert said. "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."
James' plotting of this drama had already been underway, with James' people scheming and planning to capture the masses and make a fifth of the league's teams fawn for his services. They originally planned a free agency tour before having teams come to him in Ohio, and even discussed commemorative Nike shoes for each city stop to chronicle the process. New York, New Jersey, Miami, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles.
It all ended in Greenwich, Conn. on Thursday night, but it is far from over.
The King still needs a crown.
FanHouse's Sam Amick contributed to this report.