LeBron gives glimpse in scrimmage

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Thursday, October 2, 2014

CLEVELAND -- "The King" has officially returned.

For the first time in more than four years, LeBron James stepped onto the court at Quicken Loans Arena as a member of the hometown Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.

The Cavs held their annual Wine & Gold Scrimmage in front of a raucous crowd, taking a break from conventional practice on the team's fifth day of training camp.

Every ticket made available for the intrasquad scrimmage was distributed, and while tickets to the event were free, the night had the feel of a regular-season sellout as it got underway with an announced attendance of 16,723.

There was a near-deafening din from the stands when James ran out of the tunnel and onto the floor behind his teammates, and it got just as loud shortly thereafter when his name was called by the public address announcer during player introductions.

"It was a great reaction," James said after the scrimmage. "The fans are great. They've always been great, and even when I was gone, they was great."

If there was animosity remaining within the fan base from James' decision to bolt for Miami in 2010, you wouldn't know it from looking around the arena Wednesday, with dozens of fans holding up handmade "Welcome home" signs throughout the contest.

"I have been here now long enough to understand the people of the city of Cleveland, the people of Ohio. That's a very, very unique and special group of people that live here, that appreciate certain things about people and about life that are admirable," Cavs coach David Blatt said. "I'm not surprised at all at how he's been received, for two reasons.

"Number one, because of the aforementioned people that we're talking about. Number two, because of the manner in which LeBron came back, which I think by anyone's opinion was exceptional and genuine and highly, highly admirable. That's probably the reason that he's received like that."

Fans wearing every style of James' No. 23 jersey -- from replica All-Star uniforms to his green and gold St. Vincent-St. Mary's top -- lined the streets outside The Q for hours before the doors opened.

"They were here since 1 o'clock -- for a scrimmage -- which is unprecedented," said Cavs television analyst Austin Carr, whose No. 34 is retired by the organization.

"It's amazing how excited the fan base is now."

Kevin Love, the Cavs' other big-ticket acquisition of the summer, heard plenty of cheers too, especially when he was whipping around his signature full-court outlet passes during the scrimmage.

"Since I've been introduced to Cleveland, I've been told the fans are great, and tonight was no exception," Love said.

The enthusiasm even carried over to workers at the arena. "Are you ready for a big year?" a security guard asked a co-worker shortly before tipoff. "I am," said his colleague. "We'll be doing this until June!" the guard quipped back.

And all this excitement was for a scrimmage that was so casual that James wore two gold chains around his neck while he played. Blatt was wearing jeans and a polo shirt and even posed for a selfie with some fans during live action.

The playful, happy atmosphere was perhaps most apparent just before the moment everyone was waiting for, when James pulled a prank on rookies Joe Harris and Alex Kirk. The four-time MVP gave the draftees the honor of leading the team out of the tunnel and onto the court for warm-ups, only to hold up the rest of the players behind them so the rooks ran out alone.

"He's a character," Harris said. "James [Jones] is always joking around about how he's the biggest kid on the floor or in the weight room, wherever we're at. He's a great teammate, he's a great guy and a lot of fun to be around."

Apart from James, Love and Kyrie Irving forming Cleveland's new big three for the first time, the Cavs used the occasion to unveil their newly designed court. It features a gigantic "C" dominating the halfcourt circle and an outline of the Cleveland skyline sprouting from the sideline. It is punctuated by the tagline "All for one, one for all" on the sideline along with an outline of the state of Ohio. The Cavaliers also worked their alternative blue color into the design as an accent.

The basketball was mostly inconsequential, other than Blatt giving an initial glimpse of his starting lineup (James was accompanied by Love, Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson) and James choosing to rest for final period of the scrimmage, which consisted of three 12-minute periods.

Earlier in the week, James revealed his back has been "iffy" since the start of camp, and Blatt confirmed the team is paying attention to the star's health.

"Obviously if he's not feeling well, we're going to be very concerned," Blatt said. "I think overall he's fine. He's got a little bit of back soreness, and we'll monitor that carefully and we won't overlook it because we're not getting any credit or any points for the preseason. We know we have to get LeBron and all the players ready for our first [regular-season] game, so we'll be real careful and we'll monitor accordingly his physical state."

While Wednesday didn't count in the win-loss column, it sure seemed like a significant night for Cleveland and the state of Ohio.

"I'm grateful to be able to be in this position where the fans welcome me back like that," James said.

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