For the first time since 2010 and the second time in his career, LeBron James returned to Quicken Loans Arena as the enemy of the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise.
He’s been a visitor seven occurrences in total, but only twice has LeBron come back to The Land in a new uniform after a free agency decision to leave the organization that drafted him.
Originally, it was in a Miami Heat color scheme. Wednesday, the threads were purple and gold with “Los Angeles Lakers” centered on his chest.
“I just felt different from the time we landed [yesterday]” LeBron said after the Lakers’ 109-105 win in Cleveland. “I just felt a different way. I’m a different person. We’re all different from eight years ago, I think, both good and bad.”
So who is LeBron talking about when he says things have changed? All parties involved.
Both nights were loud, but in much different ways.
December 2nd, 2010 was essentially an angry mob of Cavaliers fans that had no attention of watching a basketball game.
On November 21, 2018, it was a celebration of LeBron following through on a promise he made to Cleveland during his first stint—bringing a championship home.
Fans weren’t chucking batteries at the opposing teams benches or showing off their demeaning signs to mock The King. Instead, the city was on its feet, showering LeBron with a wave of applause to make its appreciation of his latest run known.
“It’s all about growth,” LeBron said. “And we all have grown from that moment eight years ago. I kinda leave the past in the past and always focus on the present and see what happens in the future.”
Lakers head coach Luke Walton felt the energy in the building.
“I heard maybe one or two boos, but it was mostly cheers from what I heard,” Walton said. “And it should be. I mean, he’s done so much here. He has so much love for this city, on and off the basketball court—the whole area, not just Cleveland. But it was nice to see him kinda get a standing ovation coming back here.”
Miami LeBron was presented as villainous. Los Angeles LeBron was welcomed back with open arms as a hero.
The Q’s big screen, the Humungotron, showed the four-time NBA MVP multiple times throughout the game. The pinnacle of the night, however, came following the first media timeout.
To express their gratitude, the Cavaliers prepared a short compilation of LeBron’s most memorable moments, including the emotional final call of the 2016 NBA Championship and the infamous words, “Cleveland! This is for you!”
The majority of the tribute video, though, focused on The King’s impact on Northeast Ohio as a whole. Clips from off the court surfaced and took over.
A message gradually revealed itself: “Thank you for what did on the court, but we all know it’s bigger than basketball.”
The crowd’s volume turned up to 11 in a rousing reception for the Akron native.
So, to return the favor, LeBron acknowledged the 19,432 people in attendance with a raised hand.
“I appreciate these fans just as much they appreciated me,” LeBron said. “Every single night we stepped out on to the floor, they always showed their appreciation to not only myself, but also for my teammates for those 11 years. Those last four years, those championship runs we were making.
“That was just my salute to them. Them appreciating what I was able to accomplish with my teammates and coaching staff along those four years.”
Of course, the night’s festivities didn’t distract LeBron from being who he is between the four lines. He dropped 32 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out seven assists en route to a four-point win.
Just a special night in the building he’s made a lot of memories in.
LeBron won’t forget the new one he created Wednesday.
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