LeBron James is coming back to Ohio for his first NBA game since splitting this summer to play in Florida.
King James won’t get the usual royal treatment.
”It’s going to be 10 times worse than when Carlos Boozer came back,” said Milwaukee’s Drew Gooden, who played four seasons in Cleveland. ”I think 20,000 fans are going to have headaches from booing.”
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Indeed, the Cleveland fans are going to let him hear it. But the Cavaliers want to make sure that’s all they’re doing.
To ensure the safety of players and fans, and ease concerns about potential trouble, the team is beefing up security in and around Quicken Loans Arena for James’ hyped return on Dec. 2 with Miami, a game Cleveland fans have eagerly awaited since July when the two-time league MVP famously announced his decision to join the Heat.
James said Friday night in Miami that he has already started envisioning his return.
”It’s going to be a real hostile environment, I know,” James said before the Heat hosted the Philadelphia 76ers. ”It’s going to be pretty intense.”
Still, he has no worries. The Heat have been involved with the planning of some security-related issues surrounding the game, and James has a sense of what to expect that night.
”I’m not concerned at all,” James said. ”The league is a good league and they do their best to try to make sure us players and the fans have a great time in those games. We’re going in there to try to get a win. But at the same time, I know it’ll be pretty hostile.”
Cavaliers spokesman Tad Carper said team wants ”to make people feel safe coming to the game,” and that includes James.
The Cavaliers have been working with the league and city officials since the NBA’s schedule was released in August. The main goal is to provide a secure environment for everyone without compromising the inherent advantage Cleveland has in playing at home.
The team is asking fans to refrain from wearing any profane or vulgar clothing directed at James or his family, and any obscene signs will be confiscated. However, that doesn’t mean the Cavaliers are telling folks not to express their opinions toward the superstar forward.
They just want to keep it clean.
”We think this is a great opportunity for our fans to positively show their support for their team, the organization and the city,” Carper said. ”There is a way to express yourself, enjoy yourself and show your excitement without crossing the line and exceeding the boundaries that are in place.”
There will be uniformed police and undercover officers stationed near Miami’s bench and along the tunnel leading to the visitor’s locker room. Instead of serving plastic beer bottles, vendors will pour beverages into cups to prevent anyone from using containers as projectiles.
In 2001, Cleveland fans bombarded the field at Browns Stadium with thousands of plastic bottles – some of them full of liquid – after a controversial call in a loss to Jacksonville.
NBA spokesman Tim Frank said the league does not comment on security matters.
The Cavaliers will adjust their in-game security procedures accordingly, Carper said. There will be personnel on the lookout for any inebriated patrons causing trouble, and the team is prepared to remove anyone from the arena who doesn’t comply with rules.
Fans entering the arena will pass through full-body metal detectors, which have been in place since owner Dan Gilbert bought the team in 2005.
”We have a high standard for security that exceeds what the NBA requires from us,” Carper said. ”We don’t want people to feel like they’re in a police state. We’re going to take the proper steps that need to be taken, but we want fans to come down and have a good time.”
Next week, Carper and other team officials plan to appear on radio and local television to remind fans planning to attend the game to act properly.
Cleveland fans don’t seem as edgy as they were in July, when James went on national TV to announce his intentions during an ESPN special dubbed ”The Decision”, which has been spoofed dozens of times. Shortly after James revealed his choice to team up with All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, a few fans burned his jersey and others threw rocks at his downtown billboard.
And while James acknowledges that Cleveland might not be the best place to be a LeBron fan that night, some of his friends and family will likely attend the game anyway.
”Might be hard to keep them away from that game,” James said. ”They want to see it too.”