LeBron James' return to Cleveland Thursday is going to be the most-hyped NBA regular-season game since Michael Jordan came out of retirement.
You'll be watching, I'll be watching, everyone who cares remotely about basketball -- and many who don't -- will turn on their televisions for the moment when LeBron's name is announced as a member of the Miami Heat starting five. For months, the city of Cleveland has percolated in a stew of hate, marinating its distaste for LeBron amidst a long, hot summer on through fall and now into winter's fringe. At long last this will be Cleveland's chance to unleash hell upon LeBron, not just for "The Decision" he made but for how he made it.
In ancient days most kings didn't survive their decapitations. Well, King James survived his. Now he'll get to see what life after sporting death is like.
In May, I tried to put LeBron's departure into context for Cleveland, what losing him would mean to the collective self-worth of the city. The result was this list of the 11 most debilitating departures in sports history. I tried to take into account the age of the athlete, the dominance he had in the sport, how much the city wrapped itself in the athlete's mantle as part of the city's collective DNA. The result? LeBron's departure ranked second on that list of most crushing sports departures of all-time, just behind Wayne Gretzky's.
So now that LeBron's going back home again, I wondered where this return ranked as a seminal moment in sports returns. After all, athlete returns are complicated. Sometimes they're acrimonious, sometimes joyous, always they're emotional. With that in mind, how does King James' return to the kingdom he once ruled compare to other memorable returns in sports?
Here's one man's best efforts at the 11 memorable players, teams, or coaches returning to the place they once called home.
Even though Thomas Wolfe long ago let us know that you can't home again, that doesn't mean we don't try to in the world of sports.
McManamon: Emotional Night for LeBron, Cleveland and Cavs
11. Ken Griffey, Jr. returns to Seattle as a member of the Cincinnati Reds.
On June 22, 2007, Griffey, Jr. returns to Seattle for the first time since leaving in 2000. Seven years had done nothing to dim the love affair that Seattle Mariner fans still felt for Griffey. Before the game, the Mariners played a 15-minute tribute to Griffey's days with the team and then fans gave Griffey a four-minute standing ovation when he was introduced.
An emotional Griffey, Jr. goes 1-for-5 and says, "Wow. Never did I imagine that it would be like this coming back. I spent 11 years here, 11 wonderful years here ... This place will be [my] home ... I didn't realize how much I missed being in Seattle."
10. Brett Favre returns to Green Bay as a Minnesota Viking.
This would rank higher if the Brett Favre returns to Green Bay angle hadn't been subsequently overplayed via four meetings between the teams thanks to the divisional format. There was also the one-year buffer with the New York Jets that gave both player and city time to come to grips with the departure.
But come 2009, when Favre stepped onto the Lambeau turf, 29.8 million people still tuned in to watch Favre play against the team he'd led for 16 seasons.
How did Green Bay fans respond?
They booed Favre.
9. Emmitt Smith comes back to Dallas as an Arizona Cardinal in 2003.
After 13 years carrying the football for the Cowboys, the NFL's all-time leading rusher is a shadow of his former self, carrying the ball just six times for minus-1 yard rushing in his return to Big D. He'll also catch two passes for 2 yards meaning he finishes his return to Dallas with a yard of total offense.
Smith's team loses 24-7 and after this early October game, Emmitt won't play again until November. It's a long, slow ride into the sunset for Emmitt, who will eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
8. The Colts return to Baltimore after a 15-year absence in November of 1998.
After leaving under the cover of night for Indianapolis, the Colts finally came back to Baltimore in 1998. The Indianapolis Colts take a two-touchdown lead on two occasions in an emotional return. But the city of Baltimore gains a measure of redemption when the Ravens win 38-31. Unfortunately for Colt fans Peyton Manning's success means that the Colts will be frequently in the news over the next decade and change.
Fortunately for Baltimore Colt fans, the Ravens notch their own Super Bowl in 2000.
7. Johnny Damon returns to Boston as a Yankee.
This one makes the list because of the pure hate involved between the teams. Damon isn't anywhere near the athlete that Griffey, Jr., Favre, or Smith are -- each of those is a first-ballot Hall of Famer -- but none of those players returned as a hated rival without any interval between their change in allegiance. And none of them returned after having said, "There is no way I can go play for the Yankees."
Except, you know, if they pay him more money.
In a May game, Red Sox fans unleashed the full fury of a scorned lover upon a freshly shorn Damon.
6. Allen Iverson/Donovan McNabb return to Philly.
I'm putting these together because both athletes were such iconic fixtures in the City of Brotherly Love. Despite all the heat Philly fans take for their aggressive antics -- booing Santa Claus, anyone? -- both Iverson and McNabb receive standing ovations when they make their first returns to the city in 2008 and 2010, respectively.
Iverson was with the Sixers for 11 seasons while McNabb was with the Eagles for 11 seasons. Their roles on the city's sports scenes were so similar -- close to championships but not quite -- that separating them seems unfair. They're a sporting tandem.
5. NIck Saban returns to LSU.
In 2003, Nick Saban won LSU's first national title since the 1950s. A year later he left for the NFL and LSU fans were willing to forgive that departure. What they absolutely, positively would not forgive was Saban's decision to return to the SEC and take over at a rival SEC West program, Alabama.
In 2008, Saban returned to LSU with a phalanx of security in tow that would have made Barack Obama blush. Saban's Tide won in Baton Rouge in 2008 and LSU fans were ready to string him up on the spot. This game ranks a bit lower than its closest coaching twin, when Rick Pitino came back to Kentucky, only because Alabama and LSU aren't in the same state.
4. Former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino brings the Louisville Cardinals to Rupp Arena in 2001.
Rarely, if ever, in the modern era has any coach switched sides in a hated rivalry within the same state. Kentucky is obsessed with basketball like no other state in the union. Rick Pitino did just that in the Bluegrass when he returned from a failed foray as Boston Celtics head coach to take over the Louisville Cardinals, hated rival of his former team, the Kentucky Wildcats.
As Pitino takes the court, Kentucky fans rain down a stream of boos the likes of which no basketball arena has ever seen. (Remember this was before LeBron).
3. Michael Jordan returns to Chicago as a Washington Wizard.
If you ever doubted the psychic distance between Michael Jordan's NBA career and that of LeBron James, just use Jordan's return to Chicago as the point of examination. Every time that Jordan played as a Wizard in Chicago he received several minutes of standing ovations. The entire crowd roared as one when his name was called out in opening lineups. Chicago fans still loved Michael Jordan.
Close your eyes and you can still hear it, "From Nooorth Carolin-uh..
Before the announcer even finished Jordan had many in the arena in tears. LeBron? He'll be lucky if you can even hear his name over the booing.
2. Wayne Gretzky returns to Edmonton after his trade to Los Angeles.
But Edmonton fans bear him no ill will on his first return to the city. Instead of boos fans shower him with a four-minute standing ovation and cheer him each time he touches the puck. After the game, Gretzky says, "I'm still proud to be a Canadian. I didn't desert my country. I moved because I was traded and that's where my job is. But I'm Canadian to the core."
What does he do for an encore in Edmonton? He breaks the all-time NHL points record in front of his old fans. Ouch.
1. LeBron James returns to Cleveland.
If you thought "The Decision" was a big deal, get your popcorn for "The Return."
If LeBron tries to toss his chalk into the air in Cleveland, he might well be tackled before the chalk even hits the ground. His return to Cleveland will be the most emotional -- in a negative way -- in all of American sporting history.
Follow Clay Travis on Twitter here. With All That and a Bag of Mail back on a weekly basis, you can e-mail him questions at Clay.Travis@gmail.com.