Tonight marks basketball superstar LeBron James's first game in Cleveland since his high-profile defection to the Miami Heat in July. Just how chilly of a reception can the Akron native expect? A sampling of opinions from around the Web:
- Real Anger ESPN's Bill Simmons wonders if the Heat players know the extent of the animosity James has provoked. "I went to the opening night game in Boston," recalled Simmons on Sportscenter, "and even there there was definitely a level of venom in the crowd and I think it affected those guys and I don't think they've been the same team on the road that they have been at home. I just don't think these guys realize what's going to be in store for them tonight."
- Be the Bad Guy With his squeaky-clean image is a thing of the past, says The Nation's Dave Zirin, LeBron would be best served by embracing his inner-villain tonight. Explains Zirin:
My humble advice is to find old tapes of Hulk Hogan when he “turned heel” and became Hollywood Hogan in the now defunct World Championship Wrestling and take notes. I’m serious. Remember, you once said your hero was Muhammad Ali? Well, Ali used to study a wrestler named Gorgeous George Wagner. You should show up in Cleveland with a Rampage Jackson haircut. Do your chalk toss with all the old bravado. When the crowd starts raining the hate, put your hand by your ear and demand they go louder. They say in Cleveland that you broke their hearts. Now you need to rip the pieces out of their chest. Then tell the crowd to say hello to the bad guy.
- Stronger Stuff The Wall Street Journal's Jason Gay says the concerns about how fans will "handle" James' return come from the same hype machine that turned a basketball player's free agency decision into an outside tale of American betrayal. People are talking about a major American city like it is a "crazed 5-year-old child about to be let loose in a Cold Stone Creamery." Catharsis is unrealistic. Better to hope for NBA basketball played "raucously but smoothly." Ideally the Cavaliers will "pick up a karmic win." And with each subsequent visit the Heat make to Cleveland, "the outrage will inevitably dial down a notch."
- No Winners Tonight's game makes The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto more nostalgic than angry. The nostalgia is for the high school basketball phenom the state watched grow up, the young NBA player who loved distributing the ball to his teammates. James isn't a villain. He's just a guy who doesn't know himself. "He failed to understand that so many people here believed in him as a guy who cared about Northeast Ohio and seemed determined not do to anything to embarrass the people who knew him best," writes Pluto. "It's just sad . . . and James should have known better."
- Forever and Ever There has been no harsher LeBron critic over the past four months than Esquire writer and Ohioan Scott Raab, who says in an email exchange posted on ESPN's True Hoop blog that Cleveland will always hold a grudge against James, not because he left, but because he was careless with something the city cares about: the Cavaliers. "We are not LeBron fans, and never were -- not in the sense of the bum’s quote. We’re Cleveland fans, first and forever. And forever is precisely how long we will hate him."