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America agog as biggest star in basketball 'betrays' his old team

To his former boss in Cleveland, he is "narcissistic" and a "coward". To the fans of south Florida's premier basketball franchise, the Miami Heat, he might as well be God and the Tooth Fairy wrapped into one, riding into town to help them win the next national championship title.

It was the manner in which LeBron James, an athletic star whose fame is eclipsed only by the reach of his almost bionic right arm made his choice, almost more than his actual decision, that stunned fans everywhere. On a live television broadcast, he said the fateful words: Miami Beach.

And thus, the moment his devoted Cleveland – James is from Akron, also in northern Ohio - had been dreading had arrived, ever since it became clear that their favourite son would be taking advantage of his free agency to consider the courtship of just about every basketball team in the country.

In a close season that has provided arguably the biggest roster of unattached stars in the National Basketball Association's history, LeBron James is surely the biggest. And as team after team has beaten a path to his door, wooing him with promises of the teammates they would provide and the salary they would pay, the superstar has kept his cards close to his chest. Even P. Diddy got in on the excitement, confidently predicting on Twitter that the New York Knicks would win the coveted signing.

James showed his hand in front of the nation on the ESPN sports channel. And in the end, his choice of the Heat over his hometown was not so surprising. At the Heat, his chances of winning the coveted national title that he has so far failed to secure look considerably better – good enough for the star to forego some $30m (£19m) that Cleveland could offer above any other team.

James will find himself playing alongside not one but two of his teammates from the team that won Olympic Gold in Beijing two years ago, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Together, the newly-assembled trio will transform Miami into hot favourites in every game they play.

"I can't say it was always in my plans, because I never thought it was possible," James said on the ESPN show. "But the things that the Miami Heat franchise has done... it was hard to turn down. Those are two great players."

The move will not endear James to everyone who loves the game of basketball. The betrayal of perennial underdogs Cleveland could hardly be more painful. That does not mean the entire nation won't be tuned to the Miami Heat next season, to see how its high-octane players perform together and to relish the catastrophe if they fail.

Making no secret of his priority of grasping the feted ring given to NBA champions, James told ESPN: "Winning is a huge thing for me."

There is no consolation for the folks in Cleveland, especially not for the owner of the snubbed Cleveland Cavaliers.

"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," Dan Gilbert said in a ferocious letter released to fans late on Thursday evening. "Clearly, this is bitterly disappointing to all of us."

If James feels the opprobrium of a nation that looks askance at acts of self-indulgence from their biggest stars, he at least can reassure himself that Gloria, his mother, is not angry. When he rang her to ask her permission for the switch, she did not stand in his way.

"I thought I'd hear a different reaction," he said of the phone call with her. "She felt that it was going to make me happy."