CLEVELAND --- They're coming armed with lingering anger from an emotional summer breakup. They're going to yell and scream and vent at someone who did them wrong. It's the Akron kid they watched grow up, the one they loved, the one who restored hope ... only to rip their hearts out.
Indeed, Cleveland fans are on edge this week. And that can mean only one thing: LeBron James, Northeast Ohio's prodigal son, is coming home.
Tonight, James returns to a city he captivated for seven seasons to face the Cavaliers, his former team and a franchise he lifted to unimagined heights and almost to an NBA title. But when the 25-year-old, wearing a No. 6 Miami Heat jersey, steps onto the floor of Quicken Loans Arena as a visitor, he will be the enemy and the eye of a fierce storm he created.
"I hope he's safe," said Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant. "Just from everything that happened this summer, fans are very upset."
This homecoming king won't be crowned or applauded, for sure. Not this time.
The same crowd he once thrilled will be outwardly hostile and hateful toward him, but hopefully, harmless. He'll be booed, taunted and subjected to ridicule.
"He deserves every bit of it," said Jim Osherow, a Cavaliers' season-ticket holder for 36 years. "When you leave a team the way he did, that's what you got coming. It was rotten what he did. It's not just that he ruined the fans' expectations of him, but he ruined this franchise from being able to pick up any other free agents. Then he goes and has his own show? Wrong. Wrong, man."
James and Cavaliers fans went their separate ways in July. Five months later, they'll meet face to faces with the potential for closure.
No one knows exactly what to expect before, during or after James' hyped return.
"I'm ready," James said, "for whatever response that I'm going to get."