- Associated Press - Thursday, December 2, 2010

CLEVELAND (AP) - LeBron James is in the house, just not his anymore.

At 5:33 p.m., and five months after he announced he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers after seven seasons for Miami, James stepped back inside Quicken Loans Arena for the first time as a visiting player.

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

After having his bags checked at security, 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.

Moments later, James was back on the floor where he’s had his greatest triumphs. When he was with the Cavaliers, James‘ routine was to get on the court to shoot around hours before the game, and although he’s in a different uniform, that hasn’t changed.

As he practiced 3-pointers, James was circled by a horde of photographers and TV cameras chronicling his every move. He joked with former teammate J.J. Hickson about the young forward’s jumper and then greeted Cavaliers assistant coach Chris Jent.

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 pick-up 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.

The day began with Cavs guard Mo Williams taking a subtle swipe at his former friend and ex-teammate. An avid Atlanta Braves supporter, he sported a Boston Red Sox jacket following the team’s morning shootaround, maybe an early indication of what James, a die-hard New York Yankees fan, can expect for his first game in Cleveland as a visitor.

“It’s almost like your ex-girlfriend coming to your wedding,” Williams said.

The Heat kept to themselves during the day, staying back at their hotel. But following a walk-through with his teammates, James delayed his traditional game-day nap to meet with one of his business partners in the lounge of the Ritz-Carlton.

Once the meeting ended, James headed for the elevator and was asked if he was ready for whatever Cleveland’s fans were about to unleash.

“Yes sir,” he replied. “I will be. I will be.”

Earlier, Williams, who was once tight with James, said he has not spoken to the two-time league MVP in months. Williams considered retiring this summer following James‘ decision and wouldn’t directly answer any questions about their fractured relationship.

Pressed about a split with James, Williams smiled.

“It’s a big game, that’s all I can say,” he said. “We’ve moved on.”

James‘ hyped return has been building, of course, since the moment he famously sat on a director’s chair at a Boys and Girls Club in Greenwich, Conn., and announced to the world during a one-hour television special that he would be aligning with fellow stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach.

That was his “Decision,” his moment. On Thursday night, Cavaliers fans finally get theirs.

Security will be unprecedented inside Quicken Loans Arena. There will be uniformed police and undercover officers throughout the building to keep an eye on more than 20,000 fans who will vent, scream and holler at James, the kid from Akron they used to cheer.

Cavaliers coach Byron Scott knows what it’s like to return to play against a former team. A member of the Lakers’ “Showtime” teams, he experienced suddenly being an outsider in visits to Los Angeles while with Indiana and Vancouver.

“I’ve changed a couple of teams, but I left in pretty good standing,” he said, smiling. “So when I went back, I got some standing ovations. So it’s a little different. I can’t imagine what he’s going through or what he’s thinking. But I’m not trying to get into LeBron’s head.”

Williams said he hopes Cleveland fans don’t get carried away as they express their anger toward James, but he appreciates their passion.

“They’ll be extra hostile, and I understand that, but I think we should keep it safe,” he said. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. I think we should try to let those words hurt a little bit, but try to keep the sticks and stones away.”

Williams wasn’t sure how he’ll react when he first sees James face to face on the floor. He’ll probably give him a hug “out of respect for the game.”

Afterward, he and James _ Cleveland fans _ will again go their separate ways.

“We’ll give our nods and our little salutes and go to the locker room we’re comfortable with,” he said. “He’ll go to the visitors locker room and hopefully the showers are a little bit cold. We’re going to take a warm shower and go home to our beds.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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