The big difference: LeBron will likely receive a standing ovation tonight.
The last four years healed a lot. LeBron returned and led the Cavs to a title. The bitterness of his initial departure subsided and has been replaced with warm memories. When LeBron left again, Cleveland fans were more numb to the experience of losing him.
In 2010, they were heated. In LeBron’s first game back with the Heat, fans booed him relentlessly, participated in profane chants and even hurled items toward the court.
Just how bad did it get?
Rob Brown, Heat security guard
“We brought four team security members and then we used Cleveland police officers. There were reports about us going on a scouting mission to set up security beforehand — that was all made up. We went with the regular team security and then asked Cleveland for assistance. What wasn’t made up were the 9-volt batteries being thrown on the court. I remember a member of the NBA’s security team wanted to call the game because there was so much coming at us during the game and we were basically ducking behind the scorer’s table just to not get hit.
Bill Reiter, CBS radio host and writer who covered the Heat for Fox Sports in 2010: “Joe Goodman (Miami Herald Heat beat writer) and I were running to our seats for the start of the game, and we get in the elevator and a security guard holds the door for us. There was all this extra security for LeBron that was run by the authorities there. A walkie-talkie crackles and someone asks, ‘Where’s LeBron?’ You hear a security guard say, ‘The enemy has left the locker room. I repeat, code name ‘The Enemy’ has left the locker room.’ I look at Joe, and it hits me, the people protecting LeBron James have labeled him the enemy. A security guard looks at us and shrugs with one of those looks.”
Sometimes, it amazes me LeBron returned to Cleveland, especially because the ringleader for that hate – Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who wrote that infamous letter – still owns the team. I wouldn’t have blamed LeBron for feeling unwelcome there forever.
But he forgave Gilbert and the fans enough to return. LeBron found satisfaction and built his legacy, and everyone involved was rewarded with a championship.
And then LeBron left for the Lakers, which wasn’t exactly welcome news in Cleveland (at least in most corners), but probably won’t produce anywhere near the same level of vitriol as 2010.