As LeBron James prepares to re-enter Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Thursday night for the first time since signing with Miami as a free agent, he’s probably wondering the same thing everyone else is wondering:
Will they boo?
Will the fans that felt so cheated when he went to Miami, the same fans who burnt his No. 23 in the streets and cursed the name of the King; will those fans boo their former hero?
Unfortunately for James and sportsmanship, the answer is unequivocally yes.
And while I understand their frustration and sense of betrayal, those will be no excuse come 8 p.m. Thursday. There is never any excuse for booing someone who has done so much for you.
Before LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers were mainstays at the bottom of the East and there wasn’t much to build on. Now they are considered a team that is one or two pieces away from contending, despite losing the league’s most valuable player.
That kind of rebuilding should not warrant booing, but booing there will be.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope that, if nothing else, the Cleveland fans show a little class and simply make no noise. Just let the man toss up his chalk and go on the floor. Cheer the home team and ignore the visitors.
Most likely, however, there will be heart-wrenching, offensive noises that put any other heckling ever heard to shame. We’re talking worse than Barry Bonds booing here folks, and a basketball arena is much more enclosed and loud than a baseball park.
But Cleveland fans should take notice, that booing could turn around and bite them.
On the one hand, LeBron could walk under that harsh spotlight and disappear. We’ve seen that before, and in the playoffs no less. James could fumble, go 3-for-15 from the field with nine points and his return would be nothing but a whimper. This is what the Cleveland fans are hoping happens. Such a result would make them feel justified in their booing and secure in the knowledge that they made the right decision in verbally attacking their former savior.
But on the other hand, the other LeBron could show up. The one that plays angry, who attacks the basket mercilessly and wills himself to 45 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists.
If that LeBron shows up in Cleveland on Thursday night, the fans in the arena may just be finding themselves looking for an exit halfway through the third quarter.
And the Cleveland players themselves should be taking note of this. Currently sitting at 7-10 overall and third place in the Eastern Central, Cleveland is in real early-season danger of losing too much ground to the division-leading Chicago.
Also in third place is Miami in the Southeast division. But the Heat are 10-8 and I don’t believe anyone thinks that James, Wade and Bosh won’t figure it out eventually and make a strong playoff run.
Should Cleveland improve just enough to make it into the playoffs, they may find themselves facing a Heat team with home-court advantage.
I would advise Cleveland fans to do a little light-reading and google the phrase, “never tickle a sleeping dragon” for a small lesson in the wisdom of literature. There is a moral there that everyone should be aware of.
Because if LeBron doesn’t teach that lesson to Cleveland fans on Thursday night, there is every chance he will in the playoffs.
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