CLEVELAND (AP) — The crowd’s deafening roar was so loud LeBron James couldn’t hear his name announced.
Unsure of whether to walk out onto the floor, he looked around and realized he was the last one left on the bench.
Seconds later, James knew he was home.
Cleveland fans welcomed the NBA superstar back with open arms and ear-splitting screams on Tuesday night as nearly 17,000 fans showed up to watch the Cavaliers hold their annual scrimmage, a glorified practice that provided a preview of what could become a spectacular season.
Wearing the familiar No. 23 wine and gold jersey, the one he swapped for a No. 6 in Miami four years ago, James returned to the court where he took his first steps as a pro.
As he waited on the bench to be introduced, James couldn’t hear the announcer say, “From Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, No. 23 … ”
So James began walking out.
“I really couldn’t hear it,” he said. “The fans were really loud and the PA was a little down, so I really couldn’t hear it. I was the last person sitting on the bench, so I guess it had to be my time. But the roar was very well received and I’m grateful to be able to be in this position where the fans welcomed me back like that.”
This ovation was in stark contrast to the reaction he got following the last game James in played for Cleveland in 2010. Following a 27-point loss to Boston in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, a game in which he was oddly passive, James was targeted with boos and later questioned about his effort.
Two months later, he announced he was signing with the Heat.
But all has been forgiven, if not forgotten.
For Cleveland fans, the sight of James once again on the Cavs’ home floor, soaring to the basket for a dunk or catching an outlet pass from new teammate Kevin Love, was something to behold.
“I can’t believe this,” said 19-year-old Alex Krocker from Bolivar, Ohio. “I’ve waited my whole life for a Cavs team like this, for a Cleveland team like this. It’s crazy.”
Moments after the opening tip, James, who in a heartfelt letter declared he was re-signing with the Cavs on July 11, reminded Cleveland fans what they’ve been missing. He was short with his first shot, a fade-away baseline jumper. But he grabbed his own rebound and calmly sank a 3-pointer.
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