LeBron James’ return to Cleveland on Dec. 2 garnered more attention than any return in sports history. The NBA superstar had been large and in charge in Cleveland since 2003, until he left for what seemed to be greener pastures in Miami. The transition was far from seamless, however, and it seems to have brought out a new level of hate from the entire city of Cleveland.
The Cleveland faithful attended the game in support of the Cavs, but the main goal seemed to be to make LeBron feel as low as possible. The fans even went to the extent of developing a chant sheet that listed what to chant each time LeBron touched the ball or was shooting a free throw.
Signs were everywhere, with messages including “Quitness” and “Play Like It’s Game Five,” a reference to his weak performance in last year’s playoffs against the Celtics.
As the starting lineups were introduced, LeBron was the first of the Miami Heat players to have his named called; this was followed by an array of boos and jeers. However, former Cavs center Zidrunas Ilgauskus, who also signed with Miami, was greeted with open arms and cheers.
James’ play was clearly unaffected by the hostile environment as he scored 38 points in only 30 minutes of play, leading Miami to a blowout victory over the Cavs. He smiled and held his head high. He also showed quite a bit of emotion throughout the game, gesturing to both the crowd and Cavalier bench at times; nothing volatile, he just showed emotion.
“LeBron was a professional about it,” teammate Juwan Howard said. “Normally you would get guys who would egg the ‘boo birds’ on by throwing their heads up, talking trash to the crowd. But please respect this man for how he handled the situation like a true professional.”
This return was more remarkable than any other in sports for a number of reasons. LeBron was the hometown kid; the city watched him grow from a teenager into one of the most dominant players in the NBA. He carried the team on his back and gave the Cavaliers their identity. He was, in fact, a king.
He did not want his decision to leave Cleveland to be personal, but how else would every person involved with the Cavaliers take it?