LeBron James stood at the free-throw line with 3:35 left in the first quarter. The 20,562 fans who once adored him began taunting him with jeers of "Akron hates you!"
James knew it was coming. Maybe not that chant, but the boos, the taunts, the harassment. He was prepared for it. By the time the Akron chant began, James almost seemed to relish in it. He smiled through his mouthguard, almost laughing, as he sank both free throws and returned to the other end of the floor.
Asked at the Ritz-Carlton hotel this morning if he was ready for the wrath, James said "I will be, I will be."
The crowd has been as rowdy -- but behaved -- as expected.
One fan was ejected before the game even began. As the Heat filed onto the floor 20 minutes before the game, He jumped over a police officer's shoulder to point and shout in James' face. One of the extra security members added for the evening quickly pointed him out and had him escorted from the arena.
On his way out, the fan walked past Cavaliers mascot Moondog — who appeared for pregame introductions wearing a Kevlar vest.
James was the first player introduced and immediately felt the wrath of fans. After the introductions, the Cavaliers rolled out all of their local celebrities at once. Browns players Josh Cribbs and Shaun Rogers, Indians players Travis Hafner and Jensen Lewis, Browns legend Bernie Kosar and comedian Drew Carey filed onto the court single file, all wearing their own personalized Cavs jerseys.
The crowd roared for the local stars, then exploded when Cavs owner Dan Gilbert was shown on the scoreboard taking his seat. The eruption was loud enough to catch James' attention, who looked up at the video of Gilbert and immediately began nodding his head and tapping his feet.
As the applause continued, James marched down the line barking at his teammates and pumping his fists in excitement.
James took the Heat's first bus to the arena, arriving around 5:30 p.m. He quickly dressed, walked on the court and began shooting on the rims that looked so familiar from his past.
He stopped long enough to razz J.J. Hickson about his jumper and say hello to Cavs assistant coach Chris Jent. James bumped fists with Mo Williams and Hickson prior to the opening tip and ran down to slap hands once more with Jent, whom he worked closely with on his jump shot over his last few years with the Cavs.