LeBron James Reminds Cavs What They Once Had
CLEVELAND -- The hype leading up to LeBron James' return to Cleveland turned Shakespearean in minutes. It was simply Much Ado About Nothing.
Especially when it came to the play of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Sum it up this way: the Cavs starters scored 28 points in Miami's 118-90 win; LeBron James outscored the five with 38. The Heat won more than easily, as the Cavs did not come within a light year of matching the intensity of their crowd.
With TNT cameras rolling and the nation watching, James even spent time chumming it up with the Cavs' bench during stoppages in play. J.J. Hickson smiled at James' comments -- all in fun, James said -- and Daniel Gibson and Jamario Moon seemed to be chatting as well while sitting on the bench. At one point, Cavs assistant Jamahl Mosley told James to shut up, with an expletive included.
The Cavs played pretty much like a bunch of guys who hope to be playing in Miami next season, not a group that truly wanted to win Thursday night.
"I'm embarrassed," said guard Mo Williams, who played hard but not always well.
"That's what hurts so much," said Anthony Parker. "The fans showed up like that, and we let them down."
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert was not around after the game, but offered this in two posts on Twitter: "CavsFans: Words don't express my feelings so I won't even try. Know this:There's nothing U are feeling that I'm not. The best B-Ball player ever once said: 'My pain was my motivation' .... And so it will be with us..."
If the Cavs were playing for 20,000, plus millions watching, they sure did a strange job of it.
"It's a letdown to us," Williams said when asked if it was a letdown to the crowd. "It hurts."
Early in the morning, Williams also was on Twitter, posting: "It's 5:30am. I still aint closed my eyes. Cleve deserved a win tonight. We let u down. But know that our hearts was out there also.LOVE YALL."
Williams also was caught on video making a dismissive statement to James. But most of the night the Cavs treated James like a friend rather than an opponent.
The guys who chatted with James were not in the locker room after the game, so it was left to Williams and Varejao to address it. Williams said he wasn't aware what happened because he was on the court. Varejao talked of saying hello to James before the game.
"He was a guy that I played with for seven years," Varejao said. "I learned a lot from him. I had some good times with him when I played with him. The way I grew up, I have to at least say 'hi' to him. That's what I did. I went to him and talked to him. 'How you doing?' That comes from family. That's what I did.
"I wasn't joking around. I was trying to win the game."
If this game did anything, it allowed the rest of the nation to say it could validate James' decision, that his best chance to win a championship really is in Miami. Not Cleveland. This was what James left, and it was what James left Cleveland with.
There were a few incidents from the crowd, with one arrest and four ejections. About two dozen signs and a dozen T-shirts were confiscated as inappropriate. One battery apparently was thrown and landed near the Heat's bench, which prompted a warning from the PA announcer. But overall it was a typical heckling and chanting crowd there to express its anger at a guy who left them.
There were nasty chants and a lot of boos and even a chant of "Akron Hates You," but it never seemed to affect James. He had 10 points and five assists in the first quarter, and on the two possessions after Varejao playfully took off James' headband, James drained a three and made an acrobatic alley-oop layup off a pass from Dwyane Wade.
"I have nothing bad to say about these fans," James said. "It was seven great years."
He added there was "nothing personal" between him and the fans, including with the Akron chant.
"I don't hold any grudges against these fans," he said. "They came out and supported their team."
He even said that the Cavs fans were not on the list of critics he said he was keeping in the offseason.
"It's not personal," James said.
Though, to the fans, it was personal. Clearly. They gave noted LeBron critic Charles Barkley a huge ovation when he arrived -- though by halftime Barkley was criticizing the Cavs for chatting it up with James.
They also made signs, some of them clever.
LeBron's Worse Than Modell.
The last one was made by Justyn Bencina, 16, of Eastlake, a suburb east of Cleveland. Asked if she wrote it because she believed it or for fun, she smiled and said: "Fifty-fifty."
The funniest might have been a guy wearing James' Cavs jersey, with a horse's head on his shoulders. He carried a sign with an arrow pointing down that read "Braylon Edwards Fan Club."
By the fourth quarter, a woman held up a sign reading: "We're Down By 25 and We Still Have More Fans Here." Presumably, it was a comparison to Miami.
There's something to hang a hat on.
By the time there were five minutes left the stands were half empty. Just like they were two nights earlier against Boston. The Cavs post-LeBron simply cannot compete with the better teams in the league.
The fans cheered Zydrunas Ilgauskas and booed James lustily, and they gave their biggest cheer to Gilbert. But Gilbert barely watched from his usual courtside seat after the first half, and when the game ended he left the building in a hurry -- and did not look happy.
James was asked by TNT's Craig Sager if, now that the return was over, he wanted to apologize to the Cleveland fans for his TV show and the way his decision came about. He said no, that he was doing it to help kids with the Boys and Girls Clubs and concluded by saying: "Just continue the greatness for myself in Miami and try to get better every day."
Many will highlight the quote, but on one night in his former city, James was great. And so were the Heat.
If this is the game that spurs Miami, it would be one more ultimate Cleveland thing for the list: The Miami Heat, the team that James joined, finds itself on the court that James left behind.