- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 1, 2010

CLEVELAND (AP) - They’re coming armed with lingering anger from an emotional summer breakup. They’re going to yell and scream and vent at someone who did them wrong. It’s the Akron kid they watched grow up, the one they loved, the one who restored hope … only to rip their hearts out.

Indeed, Cleveland fans are on edge this week. And that can mean only one thing: LeBron James, Northeast Ohio’s prodigal son, is coming home.

On Thursday night, James returns to a city he captivated for seven seasons to face the Cavaliers, his former team and a franchise he lifted to unimagined heights and almost to an NBA title. But when the 25-year-old, wearing a No. 6 Miami Heat jersey, steps onto the floor of Quicken Loans Arena as a visitor, he will be the enemy and the eye of a fierce storm he created.

“I hope he’s safe,” said Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. “Just from everything that happened this summer, fans are very upset.”

This homecoming king won’t be crowned or applauded, for sure. Not this time. On Thursday, James will be surrounded _ 20,000 against 1.

The same crowd he once thrilled will be outwardly hostile and hateful toward him, but hopefully, harmless. He’ll be booed, taunted and subjected to ridicule beyond his imagination.

“He deserves every bit of it,” said Jim Osherow, a Cavaliers‘ season-ticket holder for 36 years. “When you leave a team the way he did, that’s what you got coming. It was rotten what he did. It’s not just that he ruined the fans’ expectations of him, but he ruined this franchise from being able to pick up any other free agents. Then he goes and has his own show? Wrong. Wrong, man.”

James and Cavaliers fans went their separate ways in July. Five months later, they’ll meet face to faces with the potential for closure.

No one knows exactly what to expect before, during or after James‘ hyped return, a game Cleveland fans first circled on their calendars months ago and a nationally televised event that civic leaders and the NBA trust will not develop into an embarrassment.

Extra security measures have been implemented to prevent trouble and to protect James. The Heat typically distribute the team’s travel itinerary as a courtesy to beat writers covering the team, but did not for the trip to Cleveland, which will begin following Wednesday night’s home game against Detroit.

The Cavaliers, who were James‘ caretakers for seven years, are taking extra steps to safeguard the two-time league MVP. There will be uniformed and undercover police officers in the stands, near Miami’s bench and lining the tunnel area leading to the Heat locker room.

Fans will pass through metal detectors _ as always when entering The Q _ and any purchased beverages will be poured into cups, so plastic bottles can’t be thrown.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, fined $100,000 for blasting James and accusing him of quitting in the hours after the All-Star announced his intentions to leave, believes fans will react strongly … but safely.

“I’m sure a lot of them will make their feelings known, but as long as everybody plays by the rules and doesn’t go over the top, everything will be fine,” said Gilbert, who added he has “moved on” from James‘ departure. “I really believe that Cleveland people will do the right thing.”

That hasn’t always been the case. Sadly, two of the most memorable instances of fan-related misconduct happened here. In 1974, Indians fans fueled by 10-cent beers, stormed the field during a game and fought with Texas players. In 2001, Browns fans pelted officials with plastic bottles after a controversial call.

With potential for violence once again, some in Cleveland have preached for peace. The city, after all, doesn’t need another black eye. Bishop Prince J. Moultry of the inner-city In Touch for Christ Christian Center has urged his congregation to stay positive when James returns.

“Kill him with kindness,” Moultry said. “Don’t be no fool, keep your cool.”

The atmosphere will be charged. Any spark could ignite rage.

“It’s going to be a strange night,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I’ll be happier when its done and everyone has gotten their say out of the way and everybody feels better about it. Then, they can go on their merry ways and play basketball. I tend to like it when it’s about the game of basketball.”

This is about so much more, though.

To the fans, it’s a chance to repay James for embarrassing them. It wasn’t that he decided to leave as a free agent _ other big-name Cleveland athletes like Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Albert Belle had done that _ it’s the way he left.

He teased them throughout his free-agency courtship, leading Cavaliers backers to believe he would make good on his promise to end the city’s 46-year championship drought. He toyed with their emotions, building them up to think he would re-sign with Cleveland, which made it to the finals in 2007 and had the league’s best record the past two seasons.

What made James‘ exit worse, though, is that he delivered his “taking my talents to South Beach” line during a one-hour TV special dubbed “The Decision.” The production, since panned and spoofed ad nauseum, was the brain child of James and his business partners, who seemed to intentionally name the show like the other notable moments of local sports misery.

“The Decision” joined “The Drive”, “The Shot” and “The Move” in the city’s pantheon of pain.

But now, it’s payback time.

LeBron stabbed us in the back,” said Cavaliers fan George Halbert, who will make the trip from Youngstown to give James an earful. “If he wanted to leave, he had the right, but why go on national TV to do it? My kids had LeBron stuff all over their rooms and they took it all down the night he said he was leaving. I’m going to boo him.”

Others think a better route is to mock James. Organizers of a Twitter campaign known as LaughAtLeBron feel laughter would be the best medicine for James‘ return.

“Cleveland, this campaign is dedicated to you and all Cavalier fans who were humiliated by LeBron James,” reads the movement’s page. “So, Dec. 2nd don’t boo LeBron, LAUGH at him.”

Heat forward Chris Bosh doesn’t see that happening. In fact, he laughed at the notion.

“I don’t think a crowd could just be oh-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha,” Bosh said. “Since the beginning of time, people have booed to show their support or lack thereof of the other team. I doubt if that changes.”

Belle’s return set the standard for hostile homecomings in Cleveland. In 1997, fans showered him with fake money thrown from behind the left field wall. He taunted the crowd and made an obscene gesture.

James would be foolish to do anything other than play, and accept what comes his way.

“I’m ready,” he said, “for whatever response that I’m going to get.”

Osherow used to toss bubble gum to James during pregame warmups. He’ll be in his usual seat behind the Cavaliers bench on Thursday, hoping the superstar receives more than boos.

“I don’t want us to play dirty,” he said. “But I wouldn’t mind seeing someone lay him out with a good, hard, clean foul. It’s something he deserves.”

___

Associated Press Writer Thomas J. Sheeran in Cleveland and AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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