CLEVELAND -- If LeBron James was going to win another NBA title, heal broken hearts and continue building his legacy, he knew there was only one place to go.

To Ohio. Home.

Four years after he left for Miami, a widely criticized departure that damaged his image and crushed a long-suffering city's championship hopes, James is coming back to play for the Cavaliers to try to end Cleveland's half-century title drought. He's returning to his basketball roots, to the people who know him best, to make good on a promise.

James made the announcement Friday with a powerful essay written for Sports Illustrated. His decision ended two weeks of speculation with the entire league waiting on his move.

When he finally made it, Cleveland was his choice over re-signing with the Heat.

"I looked at other teams, but I wasn't going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland," he said to SI. "The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy."

James had not yet signed a contract, but he made it clear he will wear a Cavaliers jersey next season.

"When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission," James said in the SI first-person story. "I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn't had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what's most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio."


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Almost unbelievably, he'll again work for owner Dan Gilbert, who torched James on his way out the door in 2010.

"I've met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man," James said. "We've talked it out."

Gilbert said on Twitter: "I am excited for the fans and people of Cleveland and Ohio. No fans and people deserve a winner more than them."

For Cleveland, news of James' return triggered a spontaneous downtown celebration during Friday's lunch hour. Car horns blared and strangers high-fived outside Quicken Loans Arena, where James had so many big moments during his first seven seasons as a pro.

Four years ago, some fans burned his jersey. On July 11, 2014, all was forgiven.

While he was in Las Vegas earlier this week, James met with Heat president Pat Riley, the architect of Miami's back-to-back championship teams. Riley made a final pitch, but he had nothing to match the overwhelming lure of home.

"I'm not promising a championship," he said. "I know how hard that is to deliver. We're not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I'm realistic."

Scarred by economic woes, the Akron area needs James' help, and he intends to make it a better place.

"I feel my calling here goes above basketball," he said. "I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I'm from. In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I'm ready to accept the challenge.

"I'm coming home."

AP sportswriter Tim Reynolds in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

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