James holds court in Rio before World Cup final

RIO DE JANEIRO Sat Jul 12, 2014 7:02pm EDT

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

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

Credit: Reuters/Ray Stubblebine

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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 a function at an old warehouse district near the port.

James had captivated NBA fans for the past month with his possible plans for the future and he finally announced his decision in an carefully-worded essay published by Sports Illustrated.

He had not spoken publicly until his arrival in South America.

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

James, who flew into Brazil from Miami overnight, did not address reports about the terms of his deal, which ESPN said was worth $42.1 million over two years.

According to ESPN, James opted for a short-term deal so he could maximize his earning potential by re-signing for the 2016-17 season after the NBA has signed a new television deal which is expected to boost player salaries.

But James, dressed casually in shorts and a t-shirt with a diamond studded necklace draped around his neck, spoke about a wide range of subjects, including his love of soccer and his first visit to Rio, which will host the next Olympics in 2016.

He acquired a minority stake in Liverpool three years ago in a partnership with Fenway Sports Group (FSG), that owns the Boston Red Sox, Major League Baseball's current World Series champions.

"It is my first time in Rio. I am here for the excitement," said James, who will attend Sunday's final between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana.

"It's the ultimate sport. You have to play as a team.

"This is bigger than the NBA finals in the sense of the world. You have all the players representing their countries.

"The NBA finals is the ultimate for basketball. This is the ultimate for football."

(Writing by Julian Linden; editing by Gene Cherry)

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