HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – When I packed up and headed off to college a lifetime ago, the last thing my folks said to me as I hit the door was “remember — no matter what happens — you can always come home.”
Those were comforting words for a clueless kid headed to a new life over 1,000 miles away from everything he’d ever known.
LeBron James is going to find out the hard way that those words don’t always ring true.
You can’t always go home, at least not right away in some cases. Sometime in the distant future, perhaps 20 years from now, he might be able to return to Cleveland without drawing the ire of the masses.
Thursday night’s Heat-Cavaliers game at Quicken Loans Arena, however, is definitely not going to be that time.
Hearing James entertain a question about his jersey being retired in Cleveland one day is a clear indication that he still doesn’t comprehend the mental pain and anguish he caused those fans in Northeast Ohio. I don’t suspect I’ll be around to see that No. 23 jersey retirement ceremony, and no one should just dismiss it as a pipe dream.
But my search for signs that Cavaliers fans have simmered down from their initial anger and subsequent disillusioned state of shock after “The Decision” has turned up absolutely no evidence.
The pitchforks will be out Thursday night. Even James understands that much.
TNT’s Reggie Miller, who will be a part of the broadcast team calling the game, has some interesting advice for James, suggesting that he embrace the role of villain and use it as fuel:
“I used to encourage that, and I hope he takes this approach. I wanted to take the focus off my teammates, so I would do and say things,” Miller said during a phone interview with the Associated Press. “When you have 20,000 people yelling and screaming at you, four other guys can concentrate on the floor. So every time I touch the basketball and everyone is yelling and chanting and doing things towards me, well, four other guys can concentrate. I knew I could concentrate through that and I hope he takes that approach.”
The Heat have to play the Pistons tonight but LeBron’s already talking about being “emotionally drained” for a game that’s still a day away.
That gives us hours to ponder the possible reactions of all involved — the actual game itself seems almost like an afterthought already, what with all the buildup for James’ first steps on his old court being on the minds of so many.
Not only is the reaction of James and his teammates what we’ll be locked in on, but the reaction of those fans, who will be whipped into a frenzy like nothing we’ve seen.
Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, he of the of biting letter of admonishing James for quitting on Cleveland, is wisely preaching for controlled fury for the biggest game of the Cavaliers’ season:
“You don’t want to see anything stupid happen. I don’t want to see anybody do something they shouldn’t do, whether it was Thursday night or any night. I’m sure a lot of them will make their feelings known, but as long as everybody plays by the rules and doesn’t go over the top, everything will be fine. I really believe that Cleveland people will do the right thing.”
It should be a surreal experience for all involved, but especially for LeBron James, who’s going to find out the hard way that you can’t always go home.