LeBron James Has Cleveland Fans Opening Their Wallets Not Arms

LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat
LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat. Photographer: Victor Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

LeBron James may have deprived the Cleveland Cavaliers of an All-Star and created a marketing opportunity.

Prices for resold tickets have more than quadrupled for Cleveland’s first meeting with the Miami Heat, the team that James left the Cavaliers for as a free agent before this season, according to online ticket reseller StubHub.com. James, a native of Akron, Ohio, who had spent his entire career with the Cavaliers, announced his move to join fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in a nationally televised show, “The Decision,” on ESPN, leaving dejected Cavs fans to burn replica jerseys of the player they had called “The Chosen 1.”

The National Basketball Association and the Cavaliers have heightened security at Quicken Loans Arena and warned fans against inappropriate behavior as Clevelanders finally get to confront their former hometown hero.

“I would not bring a young child, because they’re going to learn a lot of new words,” said Mitchell Marks, a 50-year-old season-ticket holder from Chagrin Falls, Ohio. “This is a tough town, they take their sports seriously here, it’s going to be loud and he deserves it.”

Stubhub tickets are going for more than 300 percent higher than the $50 they’ve averaged for Cavaliers home games this season.

The average price has fallen to $209 from $234 last week, “but it is still the most expensive regular-season Cavs home game in Stubhub history,” Glenn Lehrman, a spokesman for EBay Inc.’s StubHub, founded in 2000, said in an e-mail.

Beefed Up Security

The Cavaliers have worked with the NBA and city officials to beef up security since the league’s schedule was announced in August. The NBA wouldn’t release specifics of its security plans.

“We are taking appropriate security measures,” spokesman Tim Frank said in an e-mail.

Fans have been asked not to bring signs or wear clothing that display obscenities or vulgarity toward James or his family, according to Cavaliers spokesman Tad Carper.

“That’s not a change, that’s just standard operating procedure that might be more relevant Thursday night than it typically is,” Carper said in a telephone interview. “We understand people want to express themselves and that’s perfectly allowable. We’re not going to create a police state here.”

Police Near Bench

Uniformed and undercover police will be stationed near Miami’s bench and throughout the route that leads to its locker room, while beer vendors will forgo plastic bottles in favor of pouring into cups to prevent their use as projectiles.

“The only return that maybe generated this type of animosity was Roger Clemens coming back to Boston,” TNT NBA analyst Steve Kerr, who will call the game with Marv Albert and Reggie Miller, said in a telephone interview. “He left in an awkward fashion, they hadn’t won a championship and he was supposed to be a lifelong Red Sox player. I don’t think anything else can quite compare to what we’re going to see.”

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert reacted to the departure of James, the reigning two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, with a July 8 letter posted on the team’s website. It called the buildup to the move “narcissistic” and his final decision a “cowardly betrayal.” Gilbert was fined $100,000 by the NBA for the comments.

‘Fantastic’ Remarks

Marks, whose family has had season tickets since the franchise’s second campaign in 1971-72, called Gilbert’s remarks “absolutely fantastic.”

“It was the best hundred grand he ever spent,” Marks, who owns a voice and data telecommunications service, said in a telephone interview. “It’s on my refrigerator.”

The Heat’s stay in Cleveland will be brief. After arriving early today following a 97-72 home win against the Detroit Pistons last night, Miami will have a walkthrough practice at their hotel and head straight to the airport after the game.

Miami is 11-8 and 3 1/2 games behind the Orlando Magic (14-4) in the Southeast Division. After entering the season as a 17-10 favorite to win their first title since 2006, the Heat’s odds have widened to 5-2, or 25-10, making them second favorite behind the Los Angeles Lakers, who have 19-10 odds, according to gambling website Bodog.com.

Spoelstra Criticized

After losing four of five games on Nov. 20-27, criticism was directed at Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, 40, the second-youngest coach in the NBA.

“I call these ‘healthy conflicts,’” Spoelstra told ESPN after a Nov. 29 meeting with James. “I truly believe these are good for a team. As long as you can survive these, it’ll make you stronger.”

Oddsmakers estimate there’s a 58 percent chance that Spoelstra will be fired as Miami’s coach before the end of this season, according to RJ Bell, president of Pregame.com.

Bell, whose handicapping information website is the largest compliant with U.S. laws, takes into account the betting lines at offshore sports gambling websites such as Bodog.com in determining the probability of Spoelstra being back for a third season.

‘Slow Offensive System’

“The tough part for Erik is that he was raised in that Miami system, which is very much a slow offensive system,” said Kerr, who won five NBA titles during his 15 seasons as a player -- three with the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs. “The pieces on this team probably need to run a little bit more. So, there’s an adjustment for Erik as well as the players.”

Any Heat struggles, such as the Spoelstra discussion, is good news to Marks, who said Cleveland fans will never forgive James’s departure.

“He betrayed the franchise, the city and most importantly he betrayed himself, in the sense that he had a chance to do something very special here, and he ran away from the challenge,” Marks said.

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