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The NBA cannot often boast beating the NFL in the ratings war, but Thursday's night spectacle in which LeBron James returned to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers for the first time as a member of the Miami Heat did the trick. According to TNT, which broadcast the game, Heat vs. Cavs drew an overnight 5.0 rating nationwide and a 25.9 rating in Cleveland.
The NFL's Thursday night Texans vs. Eagles game on NFL Network drew an overnight 4.1 rating, according to USA Today. TNT reaches far more households than NFL Network, however, and the NBA game peaked during player introductions as viewers were most interested in how Cleveland would greet LeBron. (Answer: boos, not surprisingly.)
The NBA's 5.0 rating translates to roughly 5.8 million viewers in the United States. The game's 25.9 rating in Cleveland means that more than a quarter of the city's households were tuned in. By comparison, the contest drew just a 14.9 rating in the Miami market.
LeBron's return was nowhere near Michael Jordan's 1995 return from retirement in terms of ratings. MJ's first game back from his stint in baseball's minor league registered a 10.9 rating for NBC, and remains the highest-rated NBA regular season game of all-time.
For the most part, LeBron James' return to Cleveland went without anyone physically trying to harm him. Mo Williams gave LeBron the cold shoulder, and there were words exchanged between LeBron and a Cavaliers assistant coach, but most of his teammates embraced him when it was all said and done.
But there was still some major animosity between two players on the opposing teams. The Heat's Eddie House and the Cavaliers' Daniel Gibson got into a bit of a skirmish towards the end of the game. Afterwards, House had to be talked out of physically harming Gibson, according to Sam Amick of Fanhouse.
Heat guard Eddie House wasn't willing to forgive Cavs guard Boobie Gibson for the events that led to double technical fouls in the late fourth quarter, and that standoff nearly segued into the worst of postgame scenes. House, who could be heard saying "When that (expletive) turns the corner I'm putting my hands on him," sat in the hallway near the Heat locker room having to be talked out of attacking Gibson. Carlos Arroyo, Jamaal Magloire and a number of security staff helped avert this conflict.
Security held House back by telling him "this is about your career. You don't want to do this with all these cameras here," according to Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It's not clear what Gibson said to House that had him all riled up, but it's worth noting that House is often an instigator in these situations, due to his fiery style.
It did not take long for the immense talent of LeBron James and the Miami Heat to overwhelm the Cavaliers in the two-time MVP's maiden return to Cleveland. To some degree, the Heat's dominance served to diffuse Cleveland fans' fiery onslaught toward the man they call The Lyin' King; it's hard to summon heaps of vitriol when you're watching what has become a lay-up drill.
As is typically the case, the bummed-out Cavaliers on the bench settled into dispositions reminiscent of sedated zombies by the third quarter; LeBron, who spent several years taking fake photographs and movie reels of these former teammates cracked a few jokes at them during stoppages in play. Some of the Cavs smiled, laughed or parlayed with LeBron.
That didn't sit well with John Bena of SB Nation's Cavs blog Fear the Sword:
Tonight, of all nights, should have been about giving LeBron James the cold shoulder. Like the fans, the Cavaliers players needed to make sure LeBron DID NOT feel at home at The Q. [...] Throughout the first half, as LeBron James was trying to get into a flow, he could be seen smiling, joking, talking with Cavaliers coaches and players. At different time, LeBron had some fun with Daniel Gibson, Chris Jent and J.J. Hickson. To be completely honest, the sight of it sickened me. What has been missing in LeBron's game all season - the fun - came back tonight and much of it was provided and enabled by the Cavaliers. It was like LeBron had never left.
In fact, it looked like the Cavaliers didn't want LeBron James mad at THEM. "Hey, LeBron, it's the fans that are chanting all those mean things. We still love you."
Not all the Cavs were too nice, though: Mo Williams pretended LeBron didn't exist before the game, and in the following video, Cavs assistant coach Jamahl Mosley (who didn't come to Cleveland until LeBron had left) expresses his exasperation at King James' chatter (via the Cleveland Scene):
When LeBron James prepared to return to Cleveland for the first time as a member of the Miami Heat for Thursday's national TV game against the Cavaliers, everyone feared the worst. The Heat didn't announce their travel plans or practice schedule to local media, fearing a fan crush or worse. Extra security was brought into Quicken Loans Arena to prevent fans from getting too close to their villain, and every precaution short of wrapping LeBron in kevlar was taken.
So did any Cleveland fans actually do anything bad, outside cat calls, booing, chants and insult-laden signs? The Cavaliers announced late Thursday that one fan in attendance was arrested for unruly behavior, and four others were ejected from The Q. The team also reported that arena security confiscated 12 inappropriate t-shirts and 24 such signs
According to WKYC-TV in Cleveland, one fan tried to burn a LeBron Cavs jersey outside the arena before the game. Unfortunately, he was three feet away from a police officer. The cop discouraged the protest. WKYC also reports the arena area was full of plain-clothes police, many of whom were in the arena for the game as well.
Tonight's game was full of moments that sports analysts are going to rehash for days. First, there was the booing and chants of "Akron Hates You." Then there was the tense moment between LeBron James and his former teammate, Mo Williams. Finally, a member of the Cleveland coaching staff told James to STFU, clear as day.
As a whole, I'd say despite his fantastic playing, James probably had a pretty rough night. Of course, many would say he brought it on himself, and I wouldn't argue too fervently against those people. But he's just a man, right? He's only human. You might even start to feel sorry for him. Until...
Craig Sager grabbed James in the tunnel after the game to ask him the usual battery of questions. One of those questions, as you might expect, was whether he felt the need to apologize to the fans for the way his tenure in Cleveland came to an end. His answer? A pretty emphatic "no."
Watching the end of this game became difficult for a softie like me. Dwayne Wade (22 points, 9 assists and 9 rebounds) did not leave the game until there were seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. At a certain point, it's just mean not to let the bench-warmers get a chance, am I right? James Jones was the only bench player with any kind of notable night for Miami, and he went five for seven from beyond the three point line.
Overall, the team shot an impressive 56.6% from the field. Most prominent, of course, was the scoring of one LeBron James. He finished the game with 38 points, eight assists, five rebounds, and zero turnovers.
The Cavaliers, to their credit, did not just roll over and die. Daniel Gibson was trying until the very end, and he led all the Cleveland players with 21 points. Anderson Varejao, normally an emotional leader on the floor, had a quiet night with just four points and eight rebounds. Sessions, Jamison and Williams each contributed 11 points.
Every single Cleveland player that was dressed for the game saw playing time on the court, and they all scored. That's a positive, right? And by the end of the game, their shooting percentage increased to 35.5%. I'm grasping at straws here, I know.
Interestingly enough, with all that scoring, no one had a double/double in the game.
I feel like I'm starting to get redundant. Like, I feel like I'm saying the same thing over and over again. LeBron James is a phenomenal basketball player, we know this. In the third quarter, James scored 24 of his 38 points. The question becomes... why was he still on the floor? At the end of the quarter, the Heat are up 30 points. It seems cruel at this point.
There isn't much to say about the Cavaliers' game. Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson are the only two players in double digits, and they just barely make the cut. They only have 23 total rebounds, as compared to Miami's 36. And worst of all, they have 12 turnovers. With some teams, that's not an insurmountable obstacle. With the Heat, however, you can't afford to give them extra opportunities to score.
The Heat are still playing as a cohesive unit, with 25 assists on 38 shots. The Cavalier's best move? Getting to the free throw line. It seems to be the only way they can get points on the board.
The Cavaliers had a shaky start to the second half with two quick turnovers, both resulting in Miami baskets. Coach Byron Scott called a much-needed time-out to stop the bleeding, but the first play out of the time-out ended in another turnover, allowing Wade to score again.
The 'asshole' chants started up again with fervor when the Cavaliers trapped James and forced the ball out of bounds. The poor fans are looking for any excuse to get involved in the game again. Unfortunately, every time Cleveland was able to make some sort of potentially momentum-changing play, Miami forced a turnover and capitalized on the other end.
Dwayne Wade was still shooting lights out, 10 of 14 from the field for 22. Lebron James continued an impressive night in spite of all this, shooting five for five in the first half of the third quarter.
LeBron James is making it easier for his former faithful to hate him, but unfortunately he's also making them look quite silly. LeBron finished the first half with 14 points on 5-13 shooting. He also has six assists and zero turnovers. It would appear that he is one of those people who simply thrives in the face of adversity. His teammates are feeding off of his confidence, drawing offensive fouls and crashing the boars.
The Heat's only mistakes in the second quarter were silly fouls that sent the Cavaliers to the line. The Cavs entered the bonus with four minutes left, allowing Cleveland to pick-up easy buckets at the charity stripe. Unfortunately for the Cavs, when the clock was running, they couldn't seem to get their shots to fall, shooting only 28.9 percent for the half.
By the end of the first half, the crowd seemed completely deflated, and who could blame them? The Heat are shooting 52.4 percent and playing great team basketball with 15 assists on 22 shots.
Funny moment of the night... with .7 seconds left on the clock, Dwayne Wade fouled Mo Williams. He got his two free throws, and when he missed the first one in the silent arena, a rather loud "oh shit" could be heard. He made the second, and leads the Cavaliers with nine points. Behind him, four players have six points.
Ramon Sessions opened up the second quarter for the Cavaliers with a contested fast-break layup and was able to draw the foul. The crowd is still cheering enthusiastically for their team, but the booing and chanting seems to have died down considerably. It's hard to sustain blatant animosity for that long, I would imagine.
The 'other' James, James Jones, is quietly giving his Heat a boost, hitting three for three from three (say that ten times fast). His accuracy is contributing to a solid 52% shooting percentage. Dwayne Wade, who is probably thankful that the hate has been deflected away from him, has scored a cool 10 points, two of which came off a thunderous dunk.
Every time it looks as though the Heat might fail in the face of all their hype, they make heady, veteran plays and silence the doubters. The Cavaliers managed to force the Heat to take up the entire 24 second shot, but accurate passing and a last-minute lay-in from Juwan Howard saved the possession.
Every team in the NBA refers to their fans as 'The Sixth Man', but rarely does the crowd contribute to a game as much as the Cavaliers fans are contributing tonight. Every time a Heat player gets their hands on the ball, boos fill the arena. When a Heat player steps up to the free throw line, a chant of "Akron Hates You" rings clear throughout the stands. There is a particular loathing audible in the crowd when James makes a play.
LeBron James, however, does not seem to be letting the hate stop his game. He made an acrobatic reverse layup from under the basket to silence the crowd, then came back down moments later after an defensive stop to hit a long jump shot. He made a a face-up jumper just for spite. When he finally missed a dunk, the crowd celebrated. No love for this guy tonight.
The 16-0 run sparked by James was finally ended by Daniel Gibson, who got an and-1. After a quick score on the other end from James Jones, Gibson hit a three pointer to close the scoring gap just a little more before the end of the quarter. They climbed back to within eight when the final buzzer sounded.
It wasn't Lebron James but his partner in crime, Dwayne Wade, that put the first points on the board, and he did so in his classic style: a steal and one-man fast break. After a quick timeout, James made his first contribution with a 15-foot jumpshot. He didn't make it one second with the ball in his hands without the boos ringing out.
After his score, Lebron's former teammates seemed to feel challenged, and so they went for six straight points. The first basket was a layup from Varejao, and then JJ Hickson hit two straight jumpshots. Every basket garners an ecstatic reaction from the fans, who sound as well-trained as the Cameron Crazies with their coordinated cheering.
Despite the intensity from the home team, no doubt inspired by their rabid fans, the Heat are managing to keep cool under pressure and lead 11-10 halfway through the first quarter.
When the Miami Heat took the floor at Quicken Loans Arena, the booing was deafening. Lebron James' face was hard to read, but it's hard to imagine he couldn't sense the hostility. It would appear that the fans are still holding plenty of resentment towards their former star. Signs throughout the crowd read "Queen James", "Witless", and "Royal Mess". A group of guys wore shirts spelling out the word 'betrayed'.
During starting lineup intros, James was introduced first. Cavs fans then booed the entire Miami lineup save Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Marv Albert predicts non-stop heckling -- at least that's what it sounds like he's saying, as an "ASSHOLE!" chart has started up yet again.
The TNT crew described the atmosphere as playoff-like, and said that the mood in the arena is unlike anything they've seen before. We'll see if the basketball lives up to the off-court drama. And yes, he did his powder ritual:
LeBron alert! ESPN seems to think this treatment of James is some sort of national emergency:
The biggest question on everyone's mind as LeBron James makes his return to Cleveland for the first time is how Cavaliers fans will react to him. Will they boo? Will they laugh? Will they chant derogatory things? Will things get ugly?
The truth is that nobody knows. We know the team is taking extra security measures, but let's be honest: how much will that actually help? Cleveland fans are still going to be upset, and they're still going to show that anger in whatever way they can. Even president Barack Obama admitted that tonight is going to be "brutal" for LeBron.
For example, check out this list of chants that Cavaliers fans at CavsChants are planning on doing. They include the following:
Also, some Cavaliers fans held a Celebrity Roast for LeBron last night, featuring everything except, you know, LeBron himself.
And then there's the whole movement to laugh at LeBron instead of booing him, which is fun in theory but pretty dumb in practice. How are you going to get 20,000 people to laugh at someone all at once?
You'd think, amid all this, that Cavs bloggers would be stroking the fire. But SB Nation's Cavaliers blog Fear the Sword is instead sad.
I know I am pissed, angry but I know I am saddened as well. LeBron James had it all and threw it away. You can almost see it on his face, a wish to go back in time and do it all over again. He went from being a partner with Dan Gilbert in building the Cavaliers to nothing more than a player. Another guy on a roster filled with stars, on a team that, as built, cannot beat the better teams in the NBA.
That's sad. Sad that LeBron James has given up everything that made him LeBron James - the fun, his game, the smile - just to get away from the pressure of playing close ot home, or of being 'The Man'.
I don't know what is going to happen tonight, and I am hoping Cleveland fans do themselves and the city proud, but for a moment, during introductions, when the boos, laughs, jeers, chants are raining down over James and the Heat I will look into his eyes and see the same thing I am feeling.
Sadness.... About what could have been.
It's an interesting perspective, and probably not that unique. But for one night, I'm guessing most Cleveland fans will be angry before they are sad. On Twitter, owner Dan Gilbert made one last plea for sanity and peace.
CavsFans: Remember 2 most import things 2nite: 1. That City, Fans, & all of us be our 'finest' w/eyes of world watching. 2. We get the WIN!
You ready, everyone?
It's cliche to hear athletes and coaches say they are taking things one game at a time, but in light of the enormous hype surrounding LeBron James' return to Cleveland, the Cavaliers coaches and players are doing their best to approach it like a normal regular season game.
But of course, it's not a normal regular season game. So, try as they might, the Cavaliers have no choice but to accept that this game against the Miami Heat is different. Mo Williams, the one player who admitted he contemplated retirement after James left this summer, probably had the most apt analogy.
"It's almost like your ex-girlfriend coming to your wedding," he said.
Williams added that he has "nothing" to say to James, and said the team has "moved on." I strongly doubt that, because the NBA is a league of fraternization, but clearly there's no love lost between Williams and James.
As for coach Byron Scott, he too downplayed the significance of the game. But there is no way he could downplay the amount of media members present for his shootaround session. This is via Lloyd on Twitter.
Five months ago, LeBron James broke the hearts of Clevelanders everywhere when he announced in an ill-conceived television special that he was "taking his talents" to South Beach and the Miami Heat. On Thursday night, James will make his return to Cleveland for the first time, as the Heat take on the Cavaliers in the first game of a TNT doubleheader.
The hype for this game is enormous. To account for what should be a potentially vicious scene, the Cavaliers will have extra security and have banned signs and T-shirts with "crude" language. Meanwhile, a movement on Twitter is encouraging Cavaliers fans to laugh at James rather than boo him. In an ominous start to the proceedings, the Miami Heat team plane had a "wing flap issue" last night and did not get into Cleveland until 2:30 in the morning.
Of course, beyond the hype, there is an actual game to be played. The Heat's slow start adds more intrigue to the proceedings. Miami was able to blow out the Detroit Pistons last night, but they sit at just 11-8 after nine games. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers are hanging in there in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, though they are coming off a blowout loss to Boston on Tuesday night. The Cavaliers have lost a lot with James gone, as Tom Ziller notes, but they are still somewhat competitive.
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