Published 9:28 PM EST Nov 21, 2018
CLEVELAND — LeBron James returned to Cleveland for the first time as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers and received a hometown hero’s welcome from Cavaliers fans.
Fans gave James a standing ovation for nearly 30 seconds when he was introduced as a starter.
Lakers coach Luke Walton expected that response from Cavaliers fans.
“I would expect they cheer him,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said about 90 minutes before tipoff on Wednesday. “They won a championship together. His love for this area is pretty well known. I would expect he gets a warm reception.”
That he did. James’ return to Cleveland with the Lakers is 180 degrees different from his return to Cleveland with the Miami Heat in 2010.
During the game’s first timeout with 8:09 left in the first quarter, the Cavs organization honored James, playing an emotional tribute video. It showed James holding the championship trophy, at his I Promise School and at an Indians baseball game and included this message, “Thank you for what you did on the court. But we all know it’s bigger than basketball. Thank you LeBron.” When James returned to the court after the timeout, he acknowledge fans with a couple of waves.
When he left the Heat in 2010, fans and the team were angry and hurt that James – born and raised in nearby Akron – left without a championship and left in the manner he did, announcing his free-agent decision on an ESPN special.
At that Cavs-Heat game on Dec. 2, 2010, fans revealed just how angry they were with vulgar chants and signs. A palpable vitriol for James was undeniable.
But much changed between then and Nov. 21, 2018.
First and foremost, he returned to the Cavs in 2014 and delivered a championship to the franchise, city and region after trailing Golden State 3-1 in the 2016 Finals. The Cavaliers played in four consecutive Finals and were appointment viewing. Plus, his philanthropic organization — the LeBron James Family Foundation — continued to help kids in Akron, Cleveland and northeast Ohio.
His legacy among Cavs fans was set.
By the end of the 2017-18 season, it became apparent that James might leave the Cavs again, and on the first day of free agency on July 1, James announced he planned to sign a four-year deal with the Lakers.
This time, fans and the organization weren’t as angry. Disappointed, yes. But James delivered on his end of the bargain and his second departure didn’t sting like the first one.
James did not talk to reporters before the game — the Lakers canceled their Wednesday morning shootaround and James was not available in the locker room pregame.
He arrived at Quicken Loans Arena at 5:45 p.m. ET and went straight to the locker room. He didn’t run take the floor until 7:56 p.m. ET, about 12 minutes before tip, and when the video board showed James during pregame warmups, fans cheered again.
Just before the opening tip, he did his famous chalk toss and hugged some of his former teammates.
“There will be a lot of energy in that building,” Walton said. “We approach every game the same way, but as far as what it’s going to be out there, it’s going to be wild.”
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.Cavaliers, fans, Give, James, LeBron, Ovation, Returning, standing