- Chris Broussard, NBA analyst
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And the Cavaliers and the NBA are doing all they can to make sure the emotional and hostile scene does not turn ugly.
The team and the league have been planning for this date since the summer, starting a continuing dialogue since the Heat's first game in Cleveland was scheduled in early August. The Cavaliers, the league and the Cleveland Police Department have had conference calls discussing the proper way to secure the game, which will be televised nationally on TNT.
To ensure James' safety, there will be dozens of extra police officers on hand, both uniformed and undercover. Officers will be stationed inside and outside the arena, and many will be positioned by the Heat bench and at the tunnel where the Heat players will enter the court.
"Honestly, I'm a little bit afraid," one member of the Cavs organization said. "Some people don't care. Their mentality is 'I've got to get this off my chest.' There's so much negative energy around this game. People aren't excited about the game itself. They're just like, 'I can't wait to do something.'"
The Cavaliers have been one of the few NBA teams to have metal detectors at every arena entrance since Dan Gilbert bought the club more than five years ago, but they will go beyond that on Dec. 2.
The team has done research on the various crude and offensive James T-shirts in circulation locally, and officials will be stationed at entrances to make sure no fans enter with such shirts or signs that disrespect James or his family members. They'll also be in the stands, authorized to take away inappropriate apparel. Fans who have such shirts will be required to remove them and then will be given a Cavaliers-branded T-shirt to wear instead. All inappropriate signs also will be confiscated and officials will be on the lookout throughout the game for inebriated fans or fans who are preparing to throw things onto the court.
"We don't want to create a police state," said Tad Carper, the Cavaliers' senior vice president of communications. "We've always had a real energetic, super-charged home crowd and we want to encourage that for every game, including Dec. 2. We want people to enjoy themselves and express themselves, but we don't want fans to cross the boundaries of decency. We're not going to allow profanity and things like that. We'll have no tolerance for anyone trying to cross those boundaries."
Carper and other members of the organization will appear on local television and radio stations next week, encouraging fans not to go beyond the boundaries of what is considered acceptable fan behavior. That may be wishful thinking, though, as many Clevelanders are angered not only by James' departure but by the fact that he announced it on a nationally televised ESPN show referred to as "The Decision."
Carper said the number of media requests the club has received -- for a CNN news crew included -- equals that of an Eastern Conference finals game.
"We feel like we're in good position," Carper said of the security plans for the game. "We understand that folks want to let out their emotions and we feel they can do that without crossing the line. Law-abiding, legal, safe behavior is what we're looking for."
Chris Broussard covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine.
3dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann