LeBron James’ Cleveland career will always be defined for how it ended. As such, LeBron James’ Cleveland return is expected to be an ugly affair. Fans became so hysterical in bashing him – with additional help from his former owner – that it didn’t appear safe for him to set foot in Ohio again. But since the Heat still have to play there occasionally, he has no choice but to return once in a while. So tonight finally brings the first game in Cleveland where James will emerge from the visitors’ locker room.
This isn’t exactly the best timing for the Heat to go through this, as they are at the center of their own controversy. Their slow, 11-8 start has spawned ugly rumors, mostly about the status of coach Eric Spoelstra.
Days before the comeback, the Cavs’ former King was accused of trying to push Spoelstra out. After that happened, the Heat actually won two games in a row, albeit against weaker opponents. The Heat has beaten up on sub-.500 teams, but facing championship contenders has been another matter.
Fortunately, the Cavaliers are below .500, as expected after “The Decision.” They have hardly been the worst team in the NBA, yet their 7-10 record has been far below their standards in the James years. But seeing as the Central division isn’t the strongest in the league, they could still contend for a playoff spot.
The second James left Cleveland behind, Miami has dreamed of far more than a playoff spot. However, their drive to win multiple championships hasn’t started off that well, as they are in third place in their division – just like the Cavaliers. Yet, since the Heat must battle the Magic and Hawks in their division, they stand to be in more of a dogfight.
Still, tonight’s game will make headlines for what happens off the court as much as what happens on it. The visceral reactions of Cavaliers fans in the last several months have raised eyebrows, fueled in part by owner Dan Gilbert. With anger still high, extra security is needed to make sure James’ enemies do not cross the line.
Cleveland already has enough to live down without the backlash that would come from going too far. Since the Cleveland departure was handled so badly, many have likely been on the city’s side. But the town could forfeit their goodwill if they get really nasty – although their ex-hero’s struggles so far may be enough of a payback.
Nevertheless, the Cavs’ faithful hope for one more embarrassment, as Cleveland “welcomes” LeBron James back at 8 p.m. est on TNT.
USA TODAY- “Cavaliers fans ready to vent as LeBron James returns”
Wall Street Journal- “LeBron in Cleveland: This Will Be Awkward”