Exclusive: LeBron James on Miami Heat Decision

Superstar said it "hurts" to move on, but wants to "be alongside greatness."

July 8, 2010, 5:16 PM

July 9, 2010 — -- LeBron James said in an exclusive morning television interview that, while it was decidedly tough to leave his home city of Cleveland, he chose to play for the Miami Heat because he wanted the opportunity to "be alongside greatness."

"Ultimately, the decision had to come from me. To be alongside greatness raises your level," James told "Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts in an interview which aired today, referring to recent Heat acquisitions Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

James, arguably the NBA's greatest player, said he made his decision as visions of championships danced in his head.

"I've won at every level, won championships at every level," James said. "It won't be fulfilled until I win at the highest level."

CLICK HERE to read the full transcript of Robin Roberts' interview with LeBron James.

While James' decision -- announced during a live primetime television special on ESPN Thursday evening -- was met with euphoria in Miami, it sent shockwaves of outrage through Cleveland, Ohio, home to the Cavaliers where James made his NBA debut and has played for the last seven years.

Some former fans burned number 23 jerseys and the Cavaliers' majority owner, Dan Gilbert, released a scathing open letter about the decision, personally guaranteeing that the Cavs would win an NBA title "before the self-titled former 'King' wins one."

"You simply don't deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal," Gilbert told fans in the letter. "If you thought we were motivated before tonight to bring the hardware to Cleveland, I can tell you that this shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own has shifted our 'motivation' to previously unknown and previously never-experienced levels."

CLICK HERE to read the full text of Gilbert's open letter.

Without LeBron it's estimated the Cavs value plummetted $250 million overnight.

For his part, LeBron likened his departure from Cleveland to breaking up a long-term relationship.

"It's almost like a relationship you may have with a lady, where you've been with that person for seven years and you've seen it all. You've grown together. You've been through the ups and downs. And one day you guys just don't see it the same way," James told "GMA." It hurts me to say that I'm moving on. But I have to do what's best."

Shortly after the announcement, ESPN showed James footage of the burning jerseys.

"I can't get involved in that," James said. "One thing I didn't want to do was make an emotional decision. I wanted to do what was best for LeBron James and what LeBron James was going to do to make him happy. ... This is a business, and I had seven great years in Cleveland."

Miami Heat president Pat Riley and Wade posted far more ecstatic messages on their team's website.

"We are thrilled that LeBron James and Chris Bosh have decided to come to Miami to join forces with our truly great player, Dwyane Wade," Riley said. "We are looking forward to the opportunity of building something that our fans in Miami will be proud of for a long, long time. The journey is just beginning."

James told "GMA" that the stakes for this new journey couldn't be higher.

"The expectation and pressure doesn't get much higher," he said. "I've exceeded every individual thing that you have to do, but now, the highest expectation is there now and that's to win an NBA title and do it in South Beach."

The LeBron Watch

For days, commentators have been following every hint on where the free-agent forward might land, a decision that was seen to mean millions more dollars in profits and vastly improved on-the-court fortunes for any team he picked.

A prediction by ESPN's Chris Broussard early Thursday that James would join Wade and Bosh to sign with the Miami Heat caused shares of the New York Knicks' parent company, Madison Square Garden Incorporated, to drop.

The stock had gone up after it was announced James would air his decision live on ESPN from the Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich, Connecticut, not far from New York City. The broadcast benefitted The Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

"It just shows you how front-and-center this two-year odyssey of where he's going to go has become," Brad Adgate, a media analyst at Horizon Media, told ABC News Radio Thursday.

The Cleveland Cavaliers tried to retain James' talents and offered the lure of continuing to play for his hometown team.

Betty White, star of the sitcom "Hot in Cleveland," taped public appeals for James to stay at home, and members of the media have noted James' departure likely would be an economic jolt to the Cavaliers and the city of Cleveland, where he has been a huge draw.

But representatives of teams in larger markets also courted James with a barrage of big-city glitz.

The New Jersey Nets brought rap superstar Jay-Z, a minority partner in the team, and Mikhail Prokhorov, the team's principal owner who is one of the world's richest men -- and the suggestion of an international marketing push behind James.

The New York Knicks suggested James picture his name in big-city lights alongside a superstar or two to be named later, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a personal appeal for James to come to New York.

The Chicago Bulls, the team where Michael Jordan starred, also came calling.

The Heat brought Riley, a legendary and charismatic former coach, to the table, and then the prospect of playing alongside Wade and Bosh.

If the goal of speculation, analysis, reading of tea leaves and finally, a prime time special, is to maximize attention, Adgate, of Horizon Media, said it has worked for James.

"He's become bigger than the sport," Adgate said. "He thought he could pull this off and he's doing it."

James told "GMA" he changed his mind several times before settling on Miami.

"I woke up some days wanting to stay at home. You know, home was best. I woke up some days saying that New York was the best... Sometimes I had dreams about teams, places that didn't even have an NBA franchise. There was just so much going on," he said. "But the process also came down to me sitting down with my friends and my family and saying the pros versus the cons and this city versus that city or whatever the case may be."

Now that the decision has been made, the whole sports world will be watching and waiting.

In his first tweet as a member of the Miami Heat early Friday morning, James wrote, "Just landed in my new home. Thanks to all the fans and Miami organization who greeted me. The Road to History starts now!"

ABC News' Aaron Katersky, Brian Braiker, Karen Travers, Brian Cohen and Lee Ferran contributed to this report.

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