CLEVELAND -- This overly hyped battle went from heavyweight to lightweight to brutal on Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena, and we're talking about on and off the court. With the whole NBA world watching (well, until halftime), you had the wrath of 20,000 scorned lovers vs. the egotistical, yet gifted, ways of their old boyfriend.
Let's just say northeast Ohio fans were crushed by LeBron James for a second time in six months.
Similar to that other time, when James spat in the faces of his former Cleveland Cavaliers team and its fans by announcing on national television that he was bolting for the Miami Heat, this one wasn't pretty. In fact, two things became even clearer after the Heat's 118-90 rout: the Cavaliers are horrible without LeBron, and with LeBron, the Big Three of the Heat that includes Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh proved again that they can beat the meek more often than not.
This Heat bunch still has issues.
Those who believe more than that after Thursday night's predictable result are also among the silly who attribute the anti-LeBron feelings around here to hatred.
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This isn't hatred. This is love turned into shock after "The Decision" that featured James embarrassing himself on ESPN in June, when he said he was leaving for the Heat after seven years with the Cavaliers and after a lifetime in the area as a native of nearby Akron.
Before long, that shock became depression, which slowly manifested itself into the mess surrounding this one.
It was mostly a comical mess.
The part that was a crazy mess didn't involve James -- but the slew of altercations that occurred in the stands deep into the second half when folks were drunk and even more depressed by seeing that old boyfriend with a prettier girl.
Officially, there was one arrest and four ejections. Unofficially, this was Sodom and Gomorrah down the stretch. While screaming Cavs fans were throwing cups of beer at a guy waving a LeBron Heat jersey in the air in the upper deck, cops were dragging somebody out by his arms and legs in the lower bowl for doing goodness knows what.
"It's nothing personal. It's a basketball game, and I had to maintain my focus no matter what was said or what was done throughout that game," said James, who accomplished his goal by destroying his former teammates in so many ways. He finished with 38 points, eight assists, five rebounds, a block, a steal and no turnovers.
He even was loose enough to converse with the Cavaliers' bench during breaks in the action.
Once, when a Heat teammate was shooting free throws, the Cavs' Anderson Varejao reached from the bench to yank LeBron's precious sweatband off his head. James was so flustered by it all that he sank two free throws and drilled a long shot to push Miami ahead by 30 points.
Added James, "I don't hold any grudges. You know, (the Cavaliers fans) came out to support their team. They wanted to support the Cavaliers and to get anybody, including myself or any of our guys, unfocused on what the task was. So they tried anything."
Yes, they did.
Remember King James? He's suddenly Queen James to most people around here. And one of the most popular t-shirts in town has a picture of Delonte West with the words, "LeBron's stepdaddy." The reference is to the rumored relationship between West and James' mother when the two played for the Cavaliers.
The bottom line is, nearly everything directed toward James by his former worshipers is deserved.
Just call it the price LeBron is paying for callousness.
That, along with throwing a whole region under his Miami-bound bus as he rode out of Cleveland.
And the guy still doesn't get it. When asked Thursday night if he would do things differently -- such as give the Cavaliers more of a warning that he was about to stiff them -- he shrugged while saying the ridiculous. "My intentions were on point. Maybe the execution was a little off," James said, basically giving Cavaliers fans free reign to continue ranking LeBron among their least favorite things these days.
So, when James left the tunnel for pregame warmups, they thought of a body part, and they chanted it. They even did so during the game when they weren't booing his every breath.
Not only that, despite Cavaliers officials threatening to stifle such things, signs were everywhere, ranging from "Not only Cleveland hates you!" to "Punk move, 'Bron (complete with a photo of Charles Barkley)" to "LeBron, LeQuiter, LeLoser, LeLiar."
Lots of boos.
They were secondary to the chants.
"Akron hates you."
Clap, clap. Clap, clap, clap.
Clap, clap. Clap, clap, clap.
"Who's your daddy?
Clap, clap. Clap, Clap, clap."
Actually, James got off lightly since he was able to walk to the Heat team bus with all of his limbs. This isn't to say violence against LeBron was in order. This is to say Cleveland sports fans have been known to get ugly for reasons much less than this.
For one, they have to live in Cleveland, where in addition to the cold and the snow for long stretches during the year, a former mayor accidentally set his hair on fire with a blow torch at a bridge dedication. Oh, and Lake Erie once caught on fire from all of its garbage.
Then there was that Browns game against the Jacksonville Jaguars nine years ago. It was delayed for 30 minutes, because fans were throwing plastic beer bottles at players and coaches of both teams near the end. Said the Jaguars' Jimmy Smith at the time, "We feared for our lives. It was like dodging bullets."
Years before that, Browns fans broke wooden seats in the upper deck of old Cleveland Stadium and set them on fire.
You also had that 10-cent Beer Night during the mid-1970s for the Cleveland Indians. At one point, Indians fans stormed the field to force a forfeit of the game to the Texas Rangers.
This LeBron thing could have been worse.
"So many things went through my mind. It was a combination of a lot of things," James said. "I have nothing bad to say about these fans at all. It was seven great years. We grew from the year before I got here -- a 17-win season -- to the last year I was here, being the best team in the league in the regular season. And I was frustrated also, because we didn't accomplish what we wanted at the end of the day."
Yeah, but that's not why Cleveland fans were frustrated after last season, LeBron. They were frustrated because you appeared to dog it during the Cavaliers' playoff loss to the Boston Celtics. They were frustrated because of how you left through "The Decision."
They were frustrated BECAUSE you left, and they showed that frustration on Thursday with their voices and their signs.
Not that it mattered.