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The return of The King: LeBron facing hostile reception in Cleveland

It’s gonna be a unique welcome for former Cleveland favourite LeBron James when he returns to the Cavs tomorrow, writes John Riordan from New York.

Image: Pa

SPARE A THOUGHT for Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

The Miami Heat centre returns to the Cleveland Cavaliers tomorrow night having moved to South Beach after 13 years in Ohio.

That’s a long time in a relatively short working career. He must be experiencing some crazy emotions as he prepares to board the team flight after tonight’s home game against the Detroit Pistons.

But he’s just a supporting actor in the LeBron James roadshow which makes a first return to the city where fans burnt the number 23 Cavaliers jersey on that fateful summer night when James loaded his talents on to a U-Haul truck bound for Florida.

It’s not often the NBA season experiences bums-on-armchairs hype this early in the season but James’ decision to move to Miami was always going to guarantee a steady supply of soap opera – only a few notches above The Young and the Restless, admittedly, but until the playoffs get going, we’ll have to take the extra free throws when they come our way.

The basketball world has watched on with almost universal glee while the Miami Heat have stumbled to a fairly pitiful start to the NBA season.

A timely win over the Washington Wizards on Monday night arrived after four losses in five games. Going into tonight’s game against Detroit, the ambitiously constructed dream team of James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade have a win percentage which hovers just above 50%.

The build-up to James’ return to Cleveland didn’t need any extra seasoning however, in Dallas on Saturday night, during Miami’s fourth loss in five games, James gave basketball writers even more to chew on.

As the Mavericks were approaching a 10-point lead in the third quarter, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra called an angry timeout, huffing and puffing onto the floor despite being dwarfed by his millionaire prima donnas. James strolled past Spoelstra, brushing his coach’s shoulder with more than a little malice.

The incident was quickly nicknamed LeBump and the amateur sports psychologists and body language experts were out in their droves. Was that… did he really, actually…?

James, who said he didn’t realise what happened, denied afterwards he was personally frustrated with Spoelstra but the pressure is on the inexperienced coach over whom looms  legendary coach Pat Riley, team president of Miami.

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The coach’s problems have led to unavoidable speculation over a possible return to the floor for Riley who won the NBA championship with Miami in 2006 having done so previously with the LA Lakers four times in the 1980s.

It’s sure to be hot in Cleveland on Thursday night. The question is what will the viewership be (ESPN are broadcasting it live) and whether it will peak for James’ pre-game powder tossing ritual, something he has pledged not to shirk from no matter how enraged his former disciples will be.

John Riordan is a former Irish Examiner journalist, now working freelance in New York.

Read his first column from the Big Apple here.

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