CLEVELAND — LeBron James is bringing his hardware back home.
After helping lead the Miami Heat to four straight appearances in the NBA Finals, including two championships, James is returning to the team that drafted him in 2003. The Cleveland Cavaliers are also the closest NBA team to James’ home in Akron, and the team with which he spent the first seven years of his pro career.
"My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball," he said. "I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now."
As FOX Sports Ohio reported a source close to the situation as saying last week, James was determined to announce his decision quickly and without warning.
"It will be ‘Bam, this is where I’m going,’" the source said.
Along with Heat stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, James opted out of his contract in late June following a Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs. After several weeks of silence, James said the pull of his home state and a young Cavaliers team drew him back.
"Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio," James wrote. "It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me.
"I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can."
James left the Cavs in free agency in 2010 on a nationally-televised "The Decision" show that drew the ire of Cavs fans and especially, owner Dan Gilbert, who penned angry letter that was immediately posted to the team’s website.
But sources told FOX Sports Ohio that fences were mended and after visiting with James’ agent Rich Paul last week, the Cavs were confident James would return.
"I’m not having a press conference or a party," James told SI. "After this, it’s time to get to work."
The Cavs have struggled mightily in James absence, missing the playoffs all four seasons and compiling a 26-game losing streak in the first year after his departure. This past season was the first in the previous four that they finished anywhere but last in the Central Division.
But in the process, they have received help via the NBA Draft, with three No. 1 overall picks and two No. 4 overall selections in four years. Their No. 1 pick in 2011, point guard Kyrie Irving, was named All-Star Game MVP last season.
The Cavs also just hired a new coach in David Blatt — who will be coaching in the NBA for the first time after a long and successful career overseas.
James, 29, is 6-foot-8 and capable of playing anywhere from power forward to shooting guard. He returns to the Cavs with career averages of 27.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game.
James cautioned not to expect too much, too soon.
"I’m not promising a championship," he told SI. "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. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010."