LeBron James receives warm welcome, ovation in return to Cleveland

James says Cavs tribute, fans reception a "great moment" for him, friends and family

Daryl Ruiter
November 21, 2018 - 8:54 pm
Nov 21, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Fans watch as Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) prior to a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

© David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – LeBron James waited until approximately 10 minutes before tip-off to finally take the floor at Quicken Loans Arena for his return to Cleveland, as a Los Angeles Laker.

He also waited until the fourth quarter to put the Cavs away.

James scored 11 of his game-high 32 points in the final 12 minutes while adding 14 rebounds and seven assists to lead the Lakers to a 109-105 victory.

“He’s one of the best closers our game has ever seen,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said.

The three-time NBA champion and four-time MVP felt a much warmer crowd than the venomous environment he walked into back on Dec. 2, 2010 for the first time as a member of the Miami Heat.

“I just felt different from the time we landed [Tuesday],” James said as he stood wearing a black shirt that read ‘All Good, Never Better’ in white text. “Just felt a different way. I’m a different person. We’re all different from eight years ago I think – both good and bad – but more importantly this experience has been great. It’s all about growth and we have all grown from that moment eight years ago.”

James received multiple ovations during his first game in Cleveland since signing with the Lakers in July.

“To come here tonight and go out and hear the fans’ reception…in my 11 years playing here I just tried to be the best basketball player, be the best role model, best leader I could be on and off the floor – lead by example – for this franchise and they showed their appreciation,” James said. “For not only myself, but my friends and family that was at the game tonight, it was a great moment.”

Fans roared when he finally took the floor to warm up, when he was introduced and once again during the first timeout when the Cavs played a special ‘Thank you’ tribute to him on the Humungotron scoreboard that hovers over the court.

“I saw the last part,” James said. “Luke [Walton] was drawing up a play so I had to pay attention slightly. Didn’t want to miss that and mess up the play coming out of a timeout, but I was able to catch some of it at the end.”

After the video played, James, who had already scored 6 of the Lakers’ first 8 points, acknowledged the crowd by raising his left arm and turning to all 4 corners of the arena as he walked back onto the floor following the timeout.  

“I appreciate these fans just as much as they appreciate me,” James said. “Every single night we stepped out on the floor they always showed their appreciation to not only to myself but for my teammates for those 11 years, especially those last 4 years, the championship runs that we were making.

“That was just my salute to them for them appreciating what I was able to accomplish with my teammates and coaches.”

While there was a smattering of boos occasionally when James touched the ball, the cheers when he scored Wednesday night were much louder.

James jerseys – Cavs and Lakers – were everywhere in the crowd. A few Heat ones too. One set of fans wore combined Cavs and Lakers James No. 23 threads that read “CLEVERS” and “LAKLAND” as they stood arm in arm together.

Gone were the satirical chants and signs deriding James’ decision to take his talents elsewhere.

They were replaced with gratitude Wednesday night after James led Cleveland to four consecutive Eastern Conference titles and fulfilled his promise to end Cleveland’s championship drought in 2016 by leading the Cavs back from a 3-1 deficit against Golden State to end 51 years of heartbreak.

One fan held up a “Thanks For 2016 LeBron” sign along with a “Warriors blew a 3-1 lead!!” sign. A kid held up a sign with purple and yellow text that read, “I still love you, LeBron.”

James felt that love and his love for northeast Ohio remains even though he’s playing on the west coast and his former team has returned to being the worst in the league.

“Anytime you have a group of guys who you spend so much time with both on and off the floor, and they’re going through what they're going through right now, you definitely feel for that,” James said. “There's champions over there. There’s guys who have been to The Finals, a lot of guys who have worked their tails off to get where they are in their careers. You never want to see your friends be in the situation they're in. But as professionals, they're still giving it all they've got, as they showed tonight.”