National Basketball Association ((NBA)) superstar LeBron James became public enemy number-one in the city of Cleveland and to Cavaliers fans around the world when he revealed his plans before this season to go to Miami in a highly-publicized national TV special known as "The Decision." NBA fans have anxiously awaited James' return to Cleveland, and the league and its players will wait to see if anything out of the ordinary happens when the Cavaliers host the Miami Heat Thursday night.
The return of LeBron James to Cleveland will be his first since leaving the Cavaliers to join friends Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Miami Heat. Cavaliers fans felt betrayed by James and reacted negatively to his decision, including burning replicas of his jersey. As a precaution, the team has taken extra security measures to what will undoubtedly be an emotionally charged game.
James' teammate, Chris Bosh, who left the Toronto Raptors to join James and Wade in Miami, would not put anything past the passionate Cleveland fan base. "I don't think we know what to expect but I'm sure it's going to be something like we've never seen before. I'm sure a lot people are going to come out and show support for the Cavaliers in their own kind of way," he said.
The hometown hero James was born just 65 kilometers south of Cleveland in Akron, Ohio. The 25-year-old was drafted number-one overall straight out of high school by a struggling Cleveland franchise and became one of the league's most recognizable stars. James spent seven seasons with the Cavaliers and won numerous accolades, including six NBA All-Star appearances and back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards the past two seasons (2008-2009 and 2009-2010).
Despite turning around the franchise and leading the team to more than 60 wins in 2009 and 2010, James failed to deliver Cleveland the ultimate prize, an NBA championship. Fans expected James to return this year, even though he became a free agent after last season, but he believed his chances of winning the title were better in Miami.
Dwayne Wade understands that it's going to be tough for James to return to the city that once embraced and adored him. "No one wants to go back and especially be boo-ed in a city that he was loved for so long, and he has done so much for. It's going to hurt him in a way," he states.
Adding to the pressure surrounding the game is the Heat's less-than-stellar overall record of 10-8. Heading into the season, Miami was expected to roll through its opponents but early season struggles have been cause for concern for the star-laden team.
James knows emotions will be high but insists that winning is most important. "I think it's going to be tough but I'm there to win a basketball game. I understand how passionate fans are about sports so you know I'm ready for whatever response I'm going to get," he said.
For extra security, the Cavaliers, the league and the Cleveland Police Department have made special arrangements. There will be dozens of extra police officers on hand and there will also be officers positioned by the Heat bench and the tunnel where the Miami players enter the court.
In addition, the Cavaliers are requiring officials at entrances to remove any inappropriate apparel or signs that would show disrespect to LeBron James or his family members.
Despite all this extra attention, James believes he is prepared. "It's going to be fun but at the same time it's going to be very emotionally draining for myself just to go back," he says, "It's going to be difficult I think."
The Cleveland Cavaliers currently sit in third place in the Central Division of the NBA's Eastern Conference with a 7-10 record. The Heat play the Cavaliers three more times in the regular season with another trip to Cleveland on March 29.