James holds court in Rio before World Cup final

Sat Jul 12, 2014 8:25pm EDT
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By Ben Walsh

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - LeBron James made his first public appearance since announcing he was returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, holding court with a group of starry-eyed Brazilian basketballers on the eve of the World Cup final in Rio.

Just 24 hours after he revealed he was leaving the Miami Heat to return home, the NBA's biggest star was the center of attraction on Saturday at an old warehouse in the Rio port district.

"It's a really exciting time for myself. I am ready for the challenge," he replied when asked how he felt about leaving Miami after leading the Heat to two NBA championships and four straight Eastern Conference titles.

James had captivated NBA fans for weeks over where he would play next season and he finally announced his decision in an carefully-worded essay published by Sports Illustrated.

But he had not spoken publicly about his decision until his arrival in Rio, which will host the next Summer Olympics in 2016.

James won gold medals for the United States at each of the past two Olympics and his experience playing alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at Beijing in 2008 was part of the reason he left Cleveland in 2010 to join them in Miami.

"As a friend and a team mate, I am sad to see my brother LeBron leave to begin a new journey," Wade said in a statement on Saturday.

"In 2010, we decided to come together all for one goal - to win championships and we succeeded. We were friends when we first joined the league and created an unbreakable bond the past four years."   Continued...

LeBron James grins after he scored a long basket against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, November 2009. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine