All eyes will be on Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday evening when the Cleveland Cavaliers take on the New York Knicks in a nationally televised season-opening contest that marks the regular-season return of LeBron James to Cleveland after his decision to head back to Ohio in free agency this summer. That he's joined by a re-upped Kyrie Irving and trade acquisition Kevin Love on a team expected to contend for a title doesn't hurt, either.
But despite the championship chatter, unfair or otherwise, and the emotional nature of the once and future King retaking the throne he abdicated four summers ago, the man himself — a four-time MVP, a two-time champion, a player who's seen and done just about everything there is to see and do in the NBA — is treating it as just another step on the journey, right? Just one of 82, nothing to see here, everybody keep it moving?
LeBron, moments ago, on Cavaliers opener tonight, "This is probably one of the biggest sporting events that's up there ever."
— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) October 30, 2014
There was more to it, of course — you can only say so much in 140 characters, after all — and the video of LeBron's post-shootaround scrum offers a bit more context:
"Obviously, it's an exciting time for our city. It's an exciting time for the people here. They should look forward to it."
On what his message to his teammates will be before the game: "Our message is that this is part of the process. You know, it's still October. We can't shortcut anything. We have to work our habits, good habits, in order to continue to improve, and this is the first step."
On how big a day this is for Cleveland: "By hearing all the noise, it's a pretty huge day."
On whether it's any different for him than past season openers: "I mean, just the fact that it's my second stint here, and I understand how much I mean to this team, to this franchise, to this city, to this state. It's a different feeling, but I'm still as calm and excited at the same time, because it's the first game of the season."
On his level of anticipation heading into today: "For me, I'm not going to — none of us should take this moment for granted. This is probably one of the biggest sporting events, you know, it's up there, ever. I don't feel it, but I know it is. 'SportsCenter' is here, a lot of people are here. 'SportsCenter' would never come to Cleveland other than this, so I understand."
"It's a great day for our fans. It's a great day for our community. And hopefully I can continue to inspire the youth here, because that's what it's about."
So, yes, LeBron's well aware of just how big a deal his first home game — well, his first for the Cavs, anyway — is in the NBA world, the larger sporting superstructure and in the annals of Cleveland sports. The magnitude of the moment is underscored (or, maybe, overscored) by the 10-story, 25,000 square-foot, 1.3-ton banner bearing his likeness unveiled Thursday afternoon:
— Jen Steer (@jensteer) October 30, 2014
... and the Nike-produced commercial, "Together," highlighting James' return as a rallying point for an entire region:
I don't know that I love the idea of turning the Cavs' past troubles with court-stormers into a heartwarming point of narrative. Everything else, though — all those people, all those abscesses of anger and sadness drained away, all that history-induced dread replaced with hope for a better tomorrow starting today — yeah, that's pretty goosebump-inducing.
You'll probably note the presence of LeBron's signature chalk toss in the image on that mammoth banner, indicating that, Twitter polling notwithstanding, that particular pre-game staple will be coming back on Thursday night. The fact that the ticket-holder giveaways at the Q include a bag of chalk sure seems to confirm that:
— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) October 30, 2014
The celebrations will extend far beyond the arena walls, with jubilant fans all over the area commemorating something for which many had hoped, but few dared believe could happen.
"This is going to be one of the biggest nights ever," said Jasmine Latorres, a bartender at the Clevelander Bar and Grill, told Tom Withers of The Associated Press. "LeBron's back. It's going to be nuts."
"Nuts" about covers it — the banners, the atmosphere, the ads, the video packages, the celebrities, the concert. And, of course, the squad that led the NBA in offensive efficiency in the preseason has an excellent chance of doing the same during the regular season, and figures to incinerate a Knicks team that looked awful against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.
It's going to be huge, both in terms of spectacle and actual basketball import. Yeah, it's just one of 82, but it's still a really, really big one, and there's no sense in LeBron or anyone else pretending otherwise.
"OK, I’m as excited as hell," new Cavs head coach David Blatt said Thursday morning. "Who wouldn’t be?"
Nobody with their eyes trained on Cleveland tonight, that's for sure.
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