For those of you who missed all of the hoopla last night, LeBron James Heat jerseys have already found their way into the city of Cleveland. During an Indians game at Progress Field Wednesday night, one “die hard Cleveland fan” made his way to his seat wearing the newly stitched #6 jersey. Fans reacted as if LeBron James himself had just plopped down in left field, dousing the fan with beer and food. Eventually the fan was escorted out of the ballpark, exiting to chants of expletives by hundreds of angry Clevelanders.
But the incident certainly got me thinking. If this is how Indians fans reacted to the mere site of someone rubbing “The Decision” in their face on their home turf, how can we expect a building full of Cavs fans to respond when Miami makes their first trip to Cleveland this upcoming season?
How many police officers per hundred fans can we anticipate? Will fans have to arrive an hour before tip off just to be properly screened at the doors? Needless to say, this is a game that all Cavaliers fans have their eyes set on. I’m no different, as I will most certainly be at that game, which sadly enough could be the “playoffs” for the rebuilding Cavaliers this season.
Well, with this highly anticipated event in mind, I decided to take a look at some of the things we could expect based on past homecomings. Using lists of the top ten Cleveland sports villains and the ten levels of anger management, these are some of the events I believe could transpire at the Q.
Jim Thome (Level 7)
When Jim Thome left the Cleveland Indians it was a major heartache for Tribe fans. As blogger Len Kehoe puts it, “Thome thought of Cleveland as his second home. He told the fans he didn’t care about the money, he told them that they would have to ‘rip the shirt off my back for me to leave’… [but] Thome went for the money, breaking Cleveland fans’ hearts once again.”
However, since Jim Thome left the Indians for an NL team, it would be four years and another team later before he returned to Cleveland. Upon his return, he was met with a mixture of boos and cheers. In his second game back at Jacobs Field he was even fortunate enough to hit two home runs, perhaps being driven by the abundance of boos outweighing the cheering.
The Los Angeles Times did a good job summarizing Thome’s divided reaction return to Northeast Ohio in 2006.
Indians fans are now split in their sentiments toward the 35-year-old slugger, who was traded to Chicago last winter. Many still cheer him, but there are plenty of resounding boos each time he comes to bat in Cleveland.
Due to the partially softened stance on Thome’s trip back to the place that he used to call home, it’s quite obvious that LeBron James will likely never be this fortunate when playing in Quicken Loans Arena again. We can expect the boos to erupt x10 and the cheers of the 1-2% that claim their loyalty to LeBron will surely be drowned out.
Carlos Boozer (Level 8)
I still remember the game as if it was yesterday. After experiencing a few rowdy St. Patty’s Day parades leading up to 2007, I was absolutely thrilled to learn that the Cavaliers would be hosting the Utah Jazz on March 17th that year. And, for the first time since his betrayal, Carlos Boozer was actually going to play!
I quickly secured a couple of club level seats and made the pilgrimage to Quicken Loans Arena with hate in my heart and vengeance on my mind. The atmosphere was fantastic with a wide variety of notables, from duct taped Boozer jerseys, with an “L” over the “B” (“Loozer”) or “BIE” over the “ZER” (“Boobie”), to thousands of drunken fans, hundreds of anti-Boozer signs, and dozens of angry chants.
Every single time Carlos Boozer touched the ball, a sea of boos showered down on him from those sitting courtside all the way up to fans in the aptly named Loudville. The young children in front of me, who probably have no recollection of Boozer other than their father’s bitter complaints since the 2004 off-season, repeatedly screamed “Boozer sucks!” off and on every five minutes throughout the entire game.
With all of that said, electric atmosphere included, the overall level of disdain was slightly less than I had assumed it would be. This was Benedict Boozer, back in Cleveland, playing on one of the most alcoholic holidays in America. Perhaps the time off between Boozer’s bolting and his first game back in uniform softened the blow from what could’ve been battery tossing to merely signs, chants, and self customized jerseys.
In the end, there is one good quote we can take away from the 2007 not-so-St. Patty’s Day massacre. When asked about what he thought the Carlos Boozer homecoming would be like, LeBron James answered “terrible… it’s going to be pretty bad for him.” He followed this up by saying he understood that Boozer did what he had to do, but “whatever [the fans] do, I’m behind them.” It’ll be interesting to see what Cleveland players are behind the fans with “whatever they do” when James is the one visiting the once again scorned fanbase.
Albert Belle (Level 9)
When Albert Belle left Cleveland for the Chicago White Sox, it was a move that greatly angered fans since he chose to play for the team’s main rival. Feeling scorned, fans bottled up all of their animosity and saved it for his return the following season.
Belle wandered back to Cleveland in 1997 and was met with more hate than he could handle. Following the initial return on June 3rd, drastic measures had to be taken for the sake of security. As one Belle dedicated website documented the series in real time, “Angry, taunting fans throw debris at Albert in left field. Team owners add extra security for the last 2 games of the series and keep fans away from the porch overlooking left field.”
While it may seem somewhat harmless, once fans begin to throw anything at a player, all bets are off. Furthermore, the fact that additional security had to be brought in and certain sections of the ballpark were off limits proved that the heightened tension was cause for concern.
For James, this is the best case scenario homecoming he can expect this season. While I’m certainly not condoning it, there will undoubtedly be several stops in play, particularly in the first quarter, due to objects being thrown on the court at his direction. If fans wearing James’ #6 Heat jersey are getting pegged with debris in the very same left field stands that fans used to throw objects at Belle, I can only imagine what objects the actual #6 jersey will attract. Unfortunately for James, avoiding debris throwing fans isn’t as easy as closing off a section of the 360 degree, oval shaped arena.
Art Modell (Level 10)
The only one in the same weight class as James on this list, Art Modell is considered a curse word throughout Northeast Ohio. Unfortunately, for comparison’s sake, Modell has yet to once again step foot on the earth he tried to salt 14 years ago.
After stealing an entire sports franchise from the city of Cleveland, Modell had to abandon his Ohio home for fear of what fans may have done. Following several death threats, Modell hired an ex-Marine, Henry Gomez, to protect him down in his Florida home in West Palm Beach. But even though he had a military trained body guard and was over 1,000 miles away, Cleveland fans still lined up outside of the home, harassing Modell any chance they could get. That’s all of the way down in Florida, so take note LeBron.
From firing legendary coach Paul Brown, who the team is named after, to completely uprooting Cleveland’s beloved Browns, Art Modell is the city’s original villain. In a way that only furthers the anger towards him, Modell has internalized a lot of this hate and made it part of his persona. When asked if James would surpass him as Cleveland’s most hated villain, he responded “nonsense… I don’t think there’s any basis for it.”
Ultimately, James may never pass Modell as Cleveland’s number one sports villain, but he has to come back to the city at least twice every year.
So what should we expect?
To be honest, I’m not sure what this night will entail. There will certainly be a lot of anger in the air and the tension within the stadium will be unbelievable. It could be a night that makes the city of Cleveland look bad in the eyes of the nation or it could be a let down for those die hard fans who hope it makes LeBron James regret ever leaving the team.
One thing is certain, however. If the angry fans at Progressive Field on Wednesday night were any indication, you may want to proceed with caution that night. As Cleveland fan and blogger Matt Bowman put it, “Anyone who brings his/her children to the first Cavs/Heat game at the Q this year better not be complaining about crowd rowdiness.”
After all, crowd rowdiness and level 10 anger is to be expected.