As you know, LeBron James is returning to Cleveland tonight to face what will perhaps be the most hostile home crowd a former hometown player has ever been forced to confront. There are so many reasons for Clevelanders to hate LeBron. He quit on them during the playoffs. He undermined his coaches. He deserted the Cavs on national TV. He never apologized. He’s secretly immature and breathtakingly entitled. HE THROWS FRENCH FRIES AT PEOPLE.
I’m not sure he has any redeeming qualities anymore. He can’t even keep the Heat from hovering near .500.
So expect the usual smattering of boos and hisses tonight, along with some creative signwork and perhaps some tasteless chants about James’ mom. I was trying to think if there was anything that would resemble this event in any other sport, particularly football. Obviously, the closest thing we had to LeBron’s situation in the NFL is when Brett Favre left Green Bay and joined the Vikings two years later. But Favre’s betrayal and eventual return to Lambeau don’t quite match up with what LeBron will face this evening. Consider a couple factors:
1. Favre was traded by his team. He didn’t necessarily ditch Green Bay voluntarily.
2. He won a title with the Packers.
3. He spent a year in New York before heading to Minnesota.
4. The Packers were still quite talented without him.
5. He already played Green Bay (and beat them) in Minnesota before returning to Lambeau.
6. Favre did NOT hire Jim Gray to hold a one-hour infomercial to kick Green Bay in its collective crotch.
Football also suffers from the distance between players and fans. When Favre takes the field, he’s much farther away from the closest fan than LeBron will be this evening. There’s no sideline buffer in the NBA. There’s no helmet over your head. You’re fully exposed. The fans are right on top of you.
Also, unlike Favre, there’s a clear sense with LeBron that he NEVER wanted to be in Cleveland, that he never liked playing there, that he never cared about winning a title there, that he never cared about the city in any way. Some people in Green Bay still love Brett Favre. NO ONE in Cleveland still loves LeBron. That’s the real reason you’re going to see so much open vitriol tonight. And I don’t know that we’ll ever see a similar situation in any sport again (especially since no future athlete will be dumb enough to televise his free agent decision again).
For it to happen in the NFL, you’d have to take the best (or one of the best) players in the game, put him in a town that has never won a title (or the Jets, because they earned their suffering), then have him leave that town on national TV and treat it with callous indifference after the fact. Who does that leave us with? Ryan Fitzpatrick? I don’t see it.
So savor this evening, sports fans. For hate this intense only comes but once in a lifetime.