No Royal Treatment as LeBron Returns Home

1 Dec
No royal treatment as LeBron returns home (Source: Getty Images)

Gutted: LeBron James of the Miami Heat - Source: Getty Images

LeBron James is bracing himself for a hostile reception when he returns to Cleveland on today for the first time since ditching his home team to join the Miami Heat.

Once the pride of Cleveland, the NBA’s two-time Most Valuable Player has been re-branded a traitor after deserting a city already battered by unemployment, high taxes, lousy weather and crummy sports teams.

A local high school student who became a once in a generation player, James was a rare beacon of hope to a city dubbed America’s Most Miserable but his decision to relocate to sunny Florida, announced live on national television earlier this year, was regarded by his fans as tasteless and akin to an act of betrayal.

His first homecoming has given his jilted fans the chance to vent some of their frustrations.

“I think it’s going to be tough,” James told reporters. “I understand how passionate the fans are about sports.”

“I’m ready for whatever response that I’m going to get. I know it’ll be pretty hostile.”

For basketball fans in the United States, tomorrow’s game is looming as the most anticipated fixture on the regular season. It is expected to produce huge television ratings and massive profits for ticket brokers with courtside seats already going for US$5,000.

Emotions are running high and security has been beefed up for the game but team and city officials have been trying to dial down the building venom.

A Twitter campaign has been launched asking fans attending the game to laugh at James rather than jeer him and a Cleveland Bishop made the all-star the subject of a recent Sunday sermon, asking fans to turn the other cheek.

But the over-riding emotion still remains anger as Cavaliers fans await their opportunity to get back at the local prodigy who grew up in nearby Akron but now calls Miami home.

His Cavaliers jersey, once the most popular in the NBA, are as rare as palm trees in Cleveland, some burned in protest and others shipped off to Miami as gifts for the homeless.

A giant billboard of James that had looked down on fans as they arrived at the arena has been stripped away while a life sized decal that had hung on the wall of a local barber shop is now glued to the floor for customers to wipe their boots on.

Some, including Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert, still cannot bring themselves to even utter James’ name while a Cleveland radio station hired a witch doctor to put a curse on the self-proclaimed ‘King’ James.

While it is not the first time Cleveland has felt the sting of rejection, James’ departure has cut deeper than most in a city where sport is taken seriously but success is rare.

Before James became public enemy number one, Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell held the distinction for moving his team to Baltimore in 1996, leaving the city without an National Football League franchise, until they returned in 1999.

The National Hockey League Cleveland Barons left town in 1978 after just two seasons of operation and have never returned while the Cleveland Grand Prix Indy Car race, a summer time fixture for 26-years on the city’s lake front, disappeared in 2006.

Cleveland’s Cy Young winning pitcher CC Sabathia spent his first seven seasons with the Cleaveland Indians but in 2008 he moved to Milwaukee then to the New York Yankees becoming the Major League’s richest pitcher.

The Cleveland Indians have not celebrated a World Series title since 1948, making it the second longest championship drought in Major League Baseball behind the Chicago Cubs, while the Cleveland Browns have never appeared in a Super Bowl.

Indeed, Cleveland has rarely finished first in any major sporting competition but with James, the Cavaliers were at least regarded as real contenders in the NBA.
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