It was hard to tell if the boos cascading down the stands at Quicken Loans Arena during the second half of Thursday night’s game were aimed at LeBron James or the hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.
Both had done plenty to earn them.
The city of Cleveland had been waiting five long months for the greatest sports hero it had ever known to return after spurning the Cavs during free agency.
The fans were boiling mad. They needed one of two things to happen in Thursday night’s game – the Cavs to put together one of their best performances of the season and beat James and the visiting Miami Heat, or James to fall flat on his face and post one of his worst performances of the season.
In fact, the Cavs looked about as bad as they could possibly look for most of the game, dropping about 10 points behind the Heat each quarter.
James, on the other hand, looked phenomenal during the first three quarters – he sat on the bench wearing a T-shirt for the entire fourth – and finished with a game-high 38 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He added a blocked shot and a steal onto the statistics stack – and had no turnovers.
The performances by the former player and the current team did nothing to ease Cavs fans’ pain. If anything, the wound was fresher and deeper after Thursday night’s game as James grabbed hold of the knife he’d left in Cleveland’s back and twisted it a bit more.
The Cavs faithful on hand did its best to hate on the superstar.
They booed heartily when James popped out of the tunnel for the first time.
They booed him every time he touched the ball.
They booed him every time he was shown on the large screen.
They booed him every time someone bought a beer from a vendor.
James hadn’t been on the floor more than a few seconds when the crowd serenaded him with a chant that sounded something like “glass pole.”
Then they got personal.
Next came the traditional “You suck,” followed by “De-lon-te” – a reference to rumors about former Cavs teammate Delonte West and Gloria James, LeBron’s mother.
The crowd broke out, “Ak-ron hates you,” a shot at James’ hometown, then “Scot-tie Pip-pen” referring to the Bulls star who always lived in the shadow of Michael Jordan during Chicago’s run to six NBA championships.
The final blast was a simple “Who’s your daddy?” – a mean chant mocking James being brought up without knowing his biological father.
During interviews, James did his part to bring a calm to the storm. The day before the game and during a postgame news conference, James said he still loved the franchise, the city and the fans, and that he cherished the seven years he spent in Cleveland.
On the floor, it was a different matter.
James did all the things he knew made opposing crowds unhappy, and knew would whip the Quicken Loans Arena fans into a frenzy.
He threw his cloud of talcum powder in the air.
He argued with the officials after every play.
He laughed at the crowd when they chanted while he was on the free throw line.
The fans went ballistic.
James pumped his fist after getting fouled on a made layup, he pulled his jersey off his shoulder with his thumb after draining a long 3-pointer and he jawed with anyone sitting near the Cavs bench – coaches, players and even a few fans.
It’s everything he did while playing for Cleveland, but the reaction couldn’t have been more opposite.
It looks like the Cavs still have a lot of work to do to become the team Cleveland was used to rooting for the past seven years.
The work needed to heal the pain the city feels after Thursday’s latest sports disappointment may not be measurable.
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.