- Associated Press - Friday, December 3, 2010

CLEVELAND (AP) - First came “The Decision.”

Then “The Derision.”

Turns out that just like LeBron James, both shows were overhyped.

The boos for James the first time he showed his face back in Cleveland lasted only slightly longer than it took him to utter the fateful line about taking “my talents to South Beach.” For all the venom spewed in the five months between, the atmosphere Thursday night inside Quicken Loans Arena was tame compared to what you’d see and hear in any soccer stadium in England just about every weekend of the season.

With James scoring 14 points in the opening half, the game was effectively over by intermission. As the Cavs struggled just to stay competitive, it served as a reminder for James and an increasingly dispirited arena of why he left in the first place. He made the jilted fans miss him even less by adding a few style points to the 38 he scored in the Heat’s 118-90 blowout, taunting his former teammates and smiling broadly when the fans chanted “Scottie Pippen, Scottie Pippen” at him in the second half.

Afterward, James said, “I have the utmost respect for this franchise, the utmost respect for these fans.”

He would have done himself a big favor stopping there. Instead, James rambled on about wanting to “just continue the greatness for myself here in Miami,” conveniently forgetting that he is still ringless and the Heat are a less-than-impressive 12-8.

On the bright side _ if you can call it that _ a Cavaliers spokesman said there was only one arrest and four ejections. Two-dozen T-shirts and a dozen signs also were confiscated.

One of those signs belonged to John Lentz of nearby Akron, LeBron’s hometown. It read “Like Father, Like Son,” an underhanded reference to the parent who deserted James‘ family and left him to be raised by his mother.

“They told me it was offensive to families,” Lentz said.

With that sign in the hands of a security guard, he simply pulled out a second that read, “Akron Hates You Too, LeBron.”

That was the way things trended all night. The highlight for Cleveland turned out to be the ovation accorded Cavs owner Dan Gilbert before the game. He sent fans a letter minutes after James‘ announcement in July guaranteeing the team would win a championship before James would. Everyone knows better now.

The charred marks on the sidewalk outside the arena are still there from that night, when angry fans burned a pile of James‘ jerseys. They subsequently tacked his likeness to dart boards, pulled down his 10-story tall portrait off the side of a building across the street and luxuriated in each and every one of the Heat’s losses this season.

For all that, the most stinging rebuke of James might be a video still making the rounds in which NBA great Michael Jordan seemingly cuts him down to size, It’s so professionally produced, all the way down to the logos, that few people were sure whether it was a real commercial or a fake.

It’s actually a very clever mash-up of a recent Nike ad featuring James asking “What Should I Do?” interspersed with cuts from several previous commercials Jordan made. It’s so convincing, in fact, that Jordan felt compelled to say earlier Thursday, “I had absolutely nothing to do with it. Nike had absolutely nothing to do with it.

“I didn’t even know about it,” he said in a telephone interview from Chicago, “until one of my kids sent it to me.”

In the viral version, Jordan is heard saying that no matter how easy he made it look to those who, like James, are trying to walk in his footsteps, it was anything but. The video switches back and forth between clips from the James commercial to clips of Jordan’s statue outside the United Center in Chicago, a blackboard listing his workout routine, a weight room and several other Jordan haunts.

It ends, powerfully, with Jordan’s saying on camera, “Maybe you’re just making excuses,” followed by the words “Become Legendary” in white letters on a black screen with the Jordan logo on the bottom.

What all the attention focused on James‘ return proved was that hype begets more hype. At least until James wins it all, something he couldn’t manage in Cleveland, despite back-to-back MVP awards. People here actually got over the fact that James left a long time ago. What outrages them still is the way they found that out, chewing on fingernails through the first third of a self-serving, hourlong infomercial.

That explained all the extra cops in place hours ahead of tip-off. The Cavaliers’ front office was purposefully vague about what fans would be allowed to wear, scribble on signs or even say once they stepped inside. Even so, after the team’s morning shootaround, Cavs coach Byron Scott warned about underestimating their creativity. He played for the Lakers, Pacers and Grizzlies, but when asked about the most contentious rivalry, he rolled his eyes and replied, ‘C’mon man.”

The brief pause left no doubt. He was talking about venturing into Boston Garden wearing the hated purple, gold and white of the Lakers.

“It got bad enough to where they were mooning our wives,” Scott recalled, breaking into a grin, “I hope it doesn’t get that bad.”

Not even close.


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org

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