Lebron James Scored 38 Points In Win Over Cleveland

LeBron James was booed repeatedly during his first game back to Cleveland since he took his talents to South Beach. The Miami Heat beat the Cavaliers 118-90 Thursday night.

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He came. He saw. He conquered. And then he left. But before LeBron James exited Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena last night, he got more razzing and verbal abuse than he has ever had in his basketball career. James and the Miami Heat pasted the Cleveland Cavaliers 118 to 90. Ouch. It was James' first game back in Cleveland since his televised announcement last July that he was leaving the Cavaliers for Miami. NPR's Tom Goldman reports that James and Cavs fans both got something out of last night's contest.

TOM GOLDMAN: OK. Cleveland. One. Two. Three. Go.

(Soundbite of booing)

Feel better? Not yet? Well, that was just the first chorus of booing when LeBron James and the Miami Heat ran onto the court before tip off. Let's fast forward to about three minutes left in the first quarter when James stepped to the line for his first free throws of the night.

(Soundbite of booing)

All night long, you could take your eyes off the court, and hear when James touched the ball. Nearly five months after James made his infamous decision and betrayed everyone here - that's the sentiment in Cleveland - by not telling his team or his city before telling the world. Nearly five months built up a great deal of pressurized rage. And this game, circled on so many Cleveland calendars, was the release valve.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting "Akron hates you, Akron hates you")

GOLDMAN: The chanting started early. "Akron hates you" let LeBron know that his distinction between his beloved hometown Akron and all the haters in Cleveland didn't exist. There were obscene chants, mean chants, who's your daddy started up late, when the Cavs were getting blown out. James grew up without a father. Some of the signs on display? Letraitor. Feel the chill, LeBron.

And through it all, James looked like he was having a blast. On his way to a game high 38 points, he skipped around the court. He jawed with the Cavs' bench. He even did his trademark, pre-game powder routine, clapping his hands and spreading his arms wide.

And that first time on the free throw line? He smiled and made both. James sat out the entire fourth quarter. Sitting near by, simmering in the front row, was 23-year-old Ryan Napier of Canton, Ohio.

Mr. RYAN NAPIER: And the thing I said to him when he was over here, he was smiling with that stupid Heat mouth guard on, I'm like - I told him, LeBron, you never smiled that big in seven years in Cleveland. He just looked at me and smirked. He's just a piece of trash. That's all he really is. He doesn't care about the city. He doesn't care about northeast Ohio.

GOLDMAN: The anger was one way. Here's James after the game.

Mr. LEBRON JAMES (Basketball player, Miami Heat): I don't have any hurt feelings or hard feelings about this game at all from these fans. I wish them the best.

GOLDMAN: Some here hoped James would take the opportunity to apologize for the decision. He talked about seven great years in Cleveland. But, he said, no regrets, about anything. This was as close as he got to admitting that the contrived, made-for-TV decision was a mistake.

Mr. JAMES: You know, like I said, my intentions was on point. Maybe the execution just was a little off.

GOLDMAN: At one point, James said, I'm moving on. I'm happy in the position that I am.

He wasn't the only one talking about closure. 42-year-old Clevelander Don Crump paused on his way out of the building. He was one of many fans leaving with an entire quarter left to play and the Cavs down by 30.

Mr. DON CRUMP: I booed. I cursed, you know, but I came here for that. And now that I saw him out there playing with another team, I can't give him no more energy. I mean no more energy. He's nothing.

GOLDMAN: Feeling better, Cleveland? Kind of.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

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