The last time James returned to Cleveland for the first time since leaving — then departing for the Miami Heat — things didn’t go so well. The crowd booed him mercilessly and unceasingly as James’ new team routed his old one, and extra security had to be hired just to make sure things didn’t get truly ugly.
James told Joe Vardon of the Athletic that he’s hoping his reception is a bit more positive this time around:
He also said he’s not expecting a reaction from Cavs fans anything like what he was met by in 2010, when he came back to Cleveland for the first time as a member of the Miami Heat.
“Shit, it better not be,” he said, referring to the flaming pile of hate and vitriol few had seen inside a pro sports arena.
Working in James’ favor are the different circumstances he left under this time. He didn’t spurn the Cavaliers on national TV; he left with a simple and understated press release that didn’t make the fans or team feel humiliated.
James also won a title in his second stint with the team, something he didn’t do his first time around. The championship was the city of Cleveland’s first in decades, meaning that James did what he came back to do.
It also certainly can’t hurt that James spent his summer opening up a school that looks set to benefit the Akron community for decades to come.
But if all that isn’t enough to quell any hard feelings from Cleveland locals, as Vardon wrote, James is “prepared for whatever comes” in his return:
“It doesn’t matter if it’s negative, because the only thing that matters is what I gave to the city, what I gave to that community, what I’m still giving to that community,” James said. “It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, they have one obligation and that’s to cheer for their team. And I’m not on the team.
“And personally I’m in a whole different space than I was in 2010, so shit doesn’t bother me.”
James is probably right to be ready for whatever and try not to let any negativity “bother” him, but he’s also probably correct that Cleveland is going to be more in the mood to celebrate what he did for them this time around.
With that in mind, James told reporters after the Lakers beat his other former team, the Miami Heat, that he is mostly trying to see his return to Cleveland as just another game as much as he can, even if he knows the contest presents some opportunities for reflection (via Spectrum Sportsnet):
“I don’t try to put too much into it. I’m gonna go out there and see if we can keep this thing going. We’re playing some really good ball right now. I’ll see some familiar faces like I did when I arrived (in Miami on Sunday). I’ll think about some of the good, I’ll think about some of the bad, I’ll think about some of the great that I had with the franchise.
“And then once the tip ball gets going it’s time to go to work. I’ll see some of my family that’s going to come to the games. See some of my friends as well and then get the thing going.”
Just another game seems like it’s probably unrealistic, but for the sake of everyone involved, hopefully it’s at least a semi-normal, non-hate-filled return to Cleveland for James this time.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.