LeBron James was greeted by boos and hostile chants from Cavaliers fans in his return to Cleveland as a member of the Miami Heat.
James was jeered as he took the court at Quicken Loans Arena for the first time as a visiting player. More boos were heard each time James was shown on the overhead video screens during pre-game warm-ups, while fans directed chants at him and held signs that read “Traitors Don’t Leave Legacies” and “The Decision: Stay or Betray?”
A further round of catcalls greeted James’s signature pre- game routine of putting talcum powder on his hands in front of the scorer’s table and throwing the excess into the air.
The hype for James’s return started five months ago, when the National Basketball Association’s two-time reigning Most Valuable Player announced July 8 in a nationally televised hour- long ESPN show called “The Decision” that he’d be taking his talents to South Beach.
James, 25, said he was drawn to Miami by friends Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and his confidence that the All-Star trio could win the NBA championships that eluded him during his seven seasons in Cleveland.
James grew up in Akron, Ohio, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) from Cleveland, and his departure angered a fan base in a city that last won a championship in a major sport in 1964.
Disgruntled Cavaliers fans burned replica James jerseys in the streets and owner Dan Gilbert called his exit a “cowardly betrayal” in a letter to fans that drew a $100,000 fine from NBA Commissioner David Stern.
In August, James took out a full-page ad in the Akron Beacon-Journal thanking his home town for its love and support. It didn’t mention Cleveland, the Cavaliers or his time playing basketball in the city.
As a precaution for tonight’s game, the NBA and the Cavaliers heightened security at Quicken Loans Arena. Fans were asked not to bring signs or wear clothing that displayed obscenities or vulgarity toward James or his family.
Uniformed and undercover police will be stationed near Miami’s bench and throughout the route that leads to its locker room. Beer vendors will use cups instead of plastic bottles that might be used as projectiles.
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, an NBA analyst for TNT, said in a televised interview. “We had Brett Favre going back to Green Bay, but this thing is on steroids. It’s even bigger than that.”
Favre, a three-time National Football League MVP, returned to Green Bay on Nov. 1, 2009, as quarterback of the rival Minnesota Vikings after playing 16 seasons with the Packers. He threw four touchdown passes as the Vikings won 38-26 at Lambeau Field.
Cavaliers guard Mo Williams, in describing the feelings toward James in Cleveland, said tonight’s homecoming was “almost like your ex-girlfriend coming to your wedding.”
President Barack Obama, in response to a question from reporters today about James’s return to Cleveland, said “Oh, that’s going to be brutal, isn’t it?”
While the Heat opened the season favored by oddsmakers to win the NBA title, they’ve started the season 11-8 and are in third place in the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division.
Miami is 10-1 against teams at or below .500 and 1-7 against teams with winning records.
The Cavaliers have started this season 7-10 without James, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.
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