Fans still jilted by Boozer's departure to Utah

Updated: March 17, 2007, 1:56 PM ET
Associated Press

CLEVELAND -- It's been nearly three years since Carlos Boozer spurned the Cavaliers to make more money in Utah.

Carlos Boozer
Boozer

Surely, fans have forgotten by now.

Or maybe not.

Fan Gerry Elliot said he hates Boozer.

"He threw the Cavs under the bus," the 45-year-old said.

Boozer hasn't returned to Cleveland since he left in the summer of 2004. Injuries kept him from playing the Cavaliers when the Jazz visited the last two seasons.

But he's expected to make his long-awaited return Saturday night. Everyone in town knows the reception won't be warm.

Boozer is viewed as another turncoat by Cleveland fans, who have been jilted over the years by former Browns owner Art Modell and former Indians Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome.

A sports talk radio station was getting fans primed for Boozer's return with a contest Friday to see who could come up with the best jeer. Another element that could make for a raucous atmosphere Saturday night is that it's St. Patrick's Day.

"Terrible," Cavaliers star LeBron James said. "It's going to be pretty bad for him tomorrow."

Boozer was a young, upcoming star in Cleveland when he sat down with former owner Gordon Gund to negotiate a new deal after his second season.

A second-round draft pick out of Duke, Boozer was due to make $695,000 in the option year of his contract.

The Cavaliers declined to exercise the option -- making him a restricted free agent -- in the belief he would accept a six-year deal worth about $38.6 million to remain in Cleveland.

Boozer signed a six-year, $68 million offer sheet from the Utah Jazz. The Cavaliers refused to match the offer, saying they had an agreement with Boozer that if they declined his option, he would remain with the team.

"I decided to trust Carlos and show him the respect he asked for. He did not show that trust and respect in return. That's what happened," Gund said then.

Boozer has said he never agreed to a long-term deal with Cleveland and that the Cavaliers intentionally attacked his reputation and character by alleging he was going back on a promise.

Guess whose side Cavs fans took?

"It's a lack of personal integrity," fan Craig Hardy said. "The Cavs management played it wrong, but the critical event was [Boozer] went back on his word."

Elliot, whose son hasn't worn his Boozer jersey since he left town, said if Boozer wasn't so talented, fans probably wouldn't have been as upset.

After struggling with injuries for two years in Utah, Boozer has put together his finest season. He was named an All-Star for the first time and is among the league leaders in points (21.0), field goal percentage (.564) and rebounds (11.6) for the Jazz, who entered Friday night with the fourth best record in the NBA.

Boozer's former Cavs teammates don't hold any animosity toward him. Besides James, only center Zydrunas Ilgauskas and forward Ira Newble remain from the 2003-04 team.

"Honestly, I don't really care," Ilgauskas said. "It's been so long ago. I'm sure some people will boo him."

James was diplomatic on whether the player known as "Booze" deserves the boos he's going to hear in Cleveland.

"He had to do what was best for him and his family and he chose to do that,'"James said. "But the fans don't understand it that way. ... Whatever they do, I'm behind them."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press