LOS ANGELES • After helping the city of Cleveland banish a championship curse that spanned 52 years, LeBron James has found his next challenge: Rescuing the Los Angeles Lakers from the most unsuccessful period in the history of the storied franchise.
The 33-year-old announced on Sunday that he was leaving his home-state Cleveland Cavaliers for a second time, and his agency revealed he was heading for Los Angeles after agreeing to a four-year, US$154 million (S$210.6 million) contract.
"Thank you Northeast Ohio for an incredible four seasons," the three-time National Basketball Association champion and 14-time All-Star, said on his Instagram account. "This will always be home."
James has led Eastern Conference teams to eight consecutive NBA Finals, with Cleveland's title in 2016 bringing the city its first major sports crown since football's Cleveland Browns in 1962, before the advent of the Super Bowl.
Moving to the Lakers will send James to the hotly contested Western Conference - which includes heavyweight teams such as the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets - for the first time as he enters his 16th season.
The Lakers have long been considered the league's most glamorous team, but they have missed the play-offs in each of the last five seasons - the longest such drought that the 16-time champions have endured.
Even with James, they will not be considered top contenders at the reigning champions Warriors' level next season even if some bookmakers installed them as second favourites behind Golden State.
The Lakers have a roster filled mostly with younger cornerstones - including Kyle Kuzma, 22, Brandon Ingram, 20, and polarising guard Lonzo Ball, 20 - and a young coach in Luke Walton, 38, who was selected in the same NBA draft as James in 2003 and played 10 professional seasons.
But by agreeing to a four-year contract - his longest contractual commitment since 2010 - James essentially acknowledged that the Lakers would need time to build a title-worthy team around him.
After president of basketball operations Magic Johnson visited James at one of his Los Angeles residences on Saturday night for three hours once the league's free agency period opened, James was willing to grant the franchise that time.
James, who spent his first seven seasons with the Cavaliers, his next four seasons with the Miami Heat, and his last four seasons back at home with Cleveland, can sign with the Lakers officially as early as Friday.
His deal contains a player option for the 2021-22 season that ensures he will be a Laker for at least three seasons before he can return to free agency.
His minimum three-year commitment means that Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka have some runway to keep pursuing a trade for San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard or other roster upgrades that could eventually nudge the Lakers closer to the Warriors' level.
Lakers legends expressed delight at news of the deal, with Kobe Bryant among the first to congratulate James on the blockbuster move.
"Welcome to the family @KingJames," the Lakers icon wrote on Twitter. "#lakers4life #striveforgreatness"
Value of LeBron James' contract with the LA Lakers over four years.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the six-time NBA champion who was part of the Lakers dynasty during the 1980s, hopes that James' arrival will signal a change in fortunes.
James has averaged 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game in 1,143 career contests.
"I am sure the Lakernation is rejoicing," he wrote on Twitter. "The acquisition of LeBron James means that the Lakers are just a smidgen away from being real contenders."
Hollywood rolled out the red carpet too.
"It's so exciting that you're coming to the city of stars. And you're without (doubt) going to be the biggest star of all, on the court and off the court," former action hero and ex-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared on Twitter in a video message.
NYTIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE