>Friday Lunch: Not Your Average Homecoming

Posted: December 3, 2010 in nba
Tags: , , , , ,

>By Brent MacDonald

The smell of burning jerseys was still lingering in the air.
The ‘Boos’ drowned out the announcers.
A fan’s sign read: “What should you do? Beg for mercy.”
Serial killers have seemed nicer than the Cleveland fans in attendance.
What else could you hope for from an NBA game?

Clearly, there was only one major story of the evening: the return of a Heat player who left his Cavaliers team this past offseason to take his talents to South Beach.
Yes, Zydrunas Ilgauskas was poised to make his first return trip of the season to play against the team he abandoned in the summer.
I made a checklist of things to look for during this game, including the following:
-Would Quicken Loans Arena incorporate the TSA’s full-body scanners for riot prevention?
-Would Dana White be in the audience, mic-in-hand, just in case a ‘Witness’ fan and a ‘Quitness’ fan got into it?
-Would “Maddog,” the Cavs mascot, live up to his name by viciously attacking players from Miami?
-Would Cavs owner Dan Gilbert look for inspiration for his new book series entitled: “F*ck You: How I Took My Talents To Talking Trash”?
-Would the Heat employ Dr. Phil to keep emotions under control during timeouts?
-How plausible is it for vendors in the arena to sell concealed weapons within foam fingers?
-How will the announcer go about introducing Miami’s newest superstar Zydrunas, and his sidekick, LeBron James?
This last question brings us to a somewhat important side note, the return of LeBron James to his homeland.
Going into the game, there were only two ways for LeBron to act: Either with his head held high, as a professional should do on their way to work, or in resemblance to the way a dog would walk towards its master after sh*tting on their bed: head down, without making eye contact and tail between legs.
Thankfully, LBJ decided to act professional. No trash talk, no call-outs. Mo Williams went so far as to compare LeBron’s return to a “bitter ex-girlfriend showing up for a man’s wedding,” yet James went about his business the way he should have, beginning with the signature pre-game chalk toss.
imageCavs fans actually acted pretty civilized compared to the monumental amount of trash-talking and hatred they have expressed over the past few months. Nothing was thrown onto the court (while I was watching), no fights broke out (on camera), and there were no attempts at taking LeBron’s life (during the game). They hassled and heckled louder than ever, but that was to be expected. Each time LeBron touched the ball he was hounded with boos, which transformed into raucous applause after a missed shot attempt.
The ‘boo’s and banter stopped coming when the Heat pushed the lead to 80-50 halfway through the third quarter.
LeBron seemed to be at home, which technically he was, and played exceptionally well given the circumstances. If you had turned on the game without sound, you would have seen a great player playing a great game. Never did he respond to the screaming audience or mock the crowd. Instead, he finished strong at the rim and drained step-back shots in classic ‘Bron style, dropping a season-high 38 points, 24 in the third quarter alone (and sat out the entire fourth).
A quick postgame interview with the ever suit-savvy Craig Sager exposed LeBron’s newfound professionalism. Responding to questions about the negativity being expressed in what was once his home arena, LeBron said that he was in Cleveland not to fuel a fire or create problems, but to “win a road game.” Hopefully the professionalism he showed in will continue to be exhibited, as he can use all the help he can get in rebuilding a positive relationship with NBA fans.
imageIt was obvious even back during ESPN’s Soap Opera series entitled “The Decision” that LeBron’s image was undergoing a change. The fact that he needed a full hour-long special to drop a bomb on millions of people automatically separated his stardom from those who he had been compared to his entire career. No longer was he to be regarded as a player climbing up to the same level as legends such as Oscar Robertson or Michael Jordan, the latter of which would never have gone to a team with two (TWO!) superstars, but would rather work his ass off in order to beat them during the season.
In case you don’t remember, here’s a quick history lesson. When MJ made his first return to the league in the early 1990’s, there was no melodramatic, made-for-TV announcement. There was simply a fax, sent to every team in the league that included two words: “I’M BACK.”
The only two words LeBron has brought meaning to are “CHOSEN ONE,” the self-given nickname tattooed across his shoulder blades.
When it comes down to it, LeBron James may be the most hated name in sports. He may have overtaken Tiger as the most disrespectful athlete in the world. He may have ruined his legacy, lost his most die-hard fans, moved to the wrong city, never become a legend and fail in the eyes of all those who watch him. But on Thursday, he took a step in the right direction by playing, speaking and acting like a professional.        
So…What else should he do? For god’s sake, this is basketball. Drop the drama.
Play the damn game.


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