Continued from page 1

One of the TV cameras remained fixed on Gilbert, a “Dan Cam” hoping to catch the owner in an animated moment.

Before the anthem, the Cavs paraded out some other local sports stars, including former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, dreadlocked wide receiver Joshua Cribbs, Indians slugger Travis Hafner, and comedian Drew Carey _ all wearing the wine-and-gold uniform James helped make famous.

James made his first trip to the foul line with 3:35 left in the first quarter. It used to be a time when he would be serenaded with the requisite “M-V-P” song, but this time it was different as the crowd broke into a chant of “Akron Hates You!”

After making his first shot, James chuckled and smiled broadly as fans continued to try and rattle him.

Before tip-off, James was segregated from his Heat teammates in a locker room he had only used as a high schooler. Two security officers and a media relations member kept reporters at bay as James dressed. Bouncing his head to the beat, James rapped along with music on his portable stereo before putting on his headphones. He briefly closed his eyes, and folded his hands as if in prayer.

Across the room, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who followed James to Miami, held court with reporters interested in hearing about his return. The beloved big man known simply as “Z,” Ilgauskas, the Cavs’ career leader in rebounds and games played, was wrestling with his own emotions.

“I had a great time here,” said Ilgauskas, drafted by the Cavs in 1996. “I miss people and I miss my friends. I don’t miss the weather. … It’s home.”

At 5:33 p.m., and five months after he famously announced on a self-promoting, made-for-TV special quickly panned that he was leaving the Cavaliers after seven seasons for Miami, James stepped back inside the building where he had his greatest triumphs for the first time as the enemy.

While it was freezing outside, the forecast inside was for a storm of boos.

After having his bags examined at security checkpoint he passed through hundred of times, James, wearing oversized glasses, a black stocking cap and leather jacket with the phrase: “Time To Roll” across the back, didn’t say a word as he walked toward Miami’s locker room _ a place he had never been before.

James saluted an arena security guard before ducking inside and preparing for what was expected to be a hostile homecoming for the Akron native.

In the hours leading up to tip-off, everyone offered an opinion on what James was about to experience. Even the nation’s highest-rated basketball player got involved. President Barack Obama added to the drama with a short, simple, and not-so-sweet description:

“It’s going to be brutal.”

That, from a guy who had just gotten 12 stitches removed after getting his lip split open in a rough pickup game.

This was the night that Cleveland _ and it seems the rest of the basketball universe _ had been waiting for. This was the moment Cavaliers fans had dreamed of, their chance to put James in his place after he had embarrassed them on national television.

Story Continues →