By TOM WITHERS
CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James is leaving home for Hollywood and an iconic team. The Los Angeles Lakers have a new superstar — L.A.-Bron. The NBA’s best player announced Sunday night that he has agreed to a four-year, $154 million contract with the Lakers, joining one of the league’s most storied franchises and switching conferences to try and dethrone the Golden State Warriors and grow his own legacy.
For the second time in his career, James is saying goodbye to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who drafted the teenage sensation from Akron in 2003 and have to be satisfied with winning just one title in the 11 years they had him. Unlike his two previous forays in free agency, James did not drag out his decision and made the announcement less than 24 hours after NBA free agency opened. This Summer of LeBron was barely a fling. His agency announced his agreement with the Lakers in a release.
It was a stark contrast from eight years ago, when a poorly conceived TV special to announce his departure from Cleveland backfired and damaged James’ image. The game’s biggest star will now lead a young Lakers team — run by Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson — that has been overmatched in recent years while rebuilding. But the Lakers will instantly rise with James, a three-time champion who after being swept by the Warriors in this year’s NBA Finals said he is still driven and very much in “championship mode.”
Los Angeles will also provide James with a larger platform for his business interests and social activism. He already owns two homes in Southern California and has a film production company. This is the third time in eight years James has changed teams. After bolting from Cleveland in 2010, he returned in an emotional homecoming four years later, determined to make the Cavs champions. The 33-year-old had previously said he wanted to finish his career in Ohio, and although he’s leaving again, Cavs fans are more forgiving after he ended the city’s 52-year sport title drought in 2016.
James informed the Cavs on Friday that he was not exercising his $35.6 million option and becoming a free agent. While in Los Angeles following a family vacation, he spoke to Cavs general manager Koby Altman moments after free agency opened on Sunday, and it appears that was more a courtesy than a chance for Cleveland to make one last pitch. The decision to join the Lakers was not a surprise to his innermost circle, with one person telling AP that it had been presumed for some time that he was headed to Los Angeles next season.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no one authorized that detail be released publicly. James gave Cleveland something to remember in his final season. He played in all 82 regular-season games and then somehow carried a team that underwent several transformations to a fourth straight conference title and matchup against the Warriors. As has been the case in the past, James didn’t have enough help as the Cavs were swept, dropping him to 3-6 in the NBA Finals — a record sometimes unfairly used to compare him to Michael Jordan. His stay with the Cavaliers will best be remembered for 2016, when he rallied the Cavs from a 3-1 deficit in the finals to stun the Warriors.
James helped seal a Game 7 win with a chase-down block of Andre Iguodala, the signature moment of a career that has shown no signs of decay. With the Lakers, James will be playing in the Western Conference for the first time and just down the Pacific Coast Highway from the Warriors, the team that has stymied him three times in the past four finals. The chance to play for one of America’s most storied franchises was appealing to James, who prides himself on knowing the game’s history. In Los Angeles, championships are the standard and he’ll feel new pressure in upholding the legacies of Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West and other Lakers greats.