LeBron James readying for reaction

Updated: December 1, 2010, 8:05 PM ET
By Michael Wallace | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- LeBron James saw images of his Cavaliers jersey being burned the night he made his free-agency decision to leave Cleveland to sign with the Miami Heat.

Eventually, he'd like to see that jersey hanging from the rafters in Quicken Loans Arena.

James It's going to be fun, but at the same time it's going to be very emotionally draining.

-- LeBron James

"Wow. Of course," James said Tuesday after the Heat's practice. "If that's something that organization and franchise would do, I'm all respectful of that. I just tried to be the best player I could be every night, whether I was in that Cavalier uniform, that USA uniform. If that results in me having my jersey retired that would be great."

But James knows that gesture probably won't happen anytime soon. Instead, the Heat forward expects to be the target of plenty of heckling and hard feelings from disgruntled fans when he makes his first trip to Cleveland on Thursday to face his former team. Former Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who spent his first 14 years in Cleveland before following James to Miami in free agency, is also anxious about this week's homecoming.

"I'm ready for whatever response I'm going to get," James said. "It's going to be very emotional. I give a lot of thanks to that city, a lot of thanks to those fans for giving me the opportunity to not only showcase my talent, but to grow from a young boy to a man during my seven years. So it's going to be very emotionally draining. I can tell already."

James said it will be difficult to not overlook the Heat's home game on Wednesday against Detroit, considering the anticipation leading into his return to his home state. But a tight schedule for Miami over the next 72 hours might help to calm some of that anxiety. The Heat will travel from Miami to Cleveland after Wednesday's game and arrive early Thursday morning in Cleveland.

The Heat will be in northeast Ohio for less than 20 hours. James said that would leave only enough time for him to sleep, get up for the team's breakfast meeting and then fall asleep again. A range of emotions could keep James restless most of the day leading to tipoff.

"It's going to be fun, but at the same time it's going to be very emotionally draining," James said. "It's going to be difficult. It's going to be funny though, being in a different uniform, being in the visiting locker room, starting off on the other end of the court, sitting on the other end of the bench."

James left Cleveland as the franchise's career leader in scoring, field goals made, free throws made and attempted, steals, triple doubles and minutes played. The two-time league MVP led the Cavaliers to their lone trip to the NBA Finals in 2007, where they lost in four games to San Antonio.

James said he would do his pregame ritual of tossing powder into the air at the scorer's table on Thursday. The reception will certainly be different from the ovation he had been accustomed to receiving while with the Cavaliers.

In Cleveland, James' former teammate Shaquille O'Neal, whose Boston Celtics were playing the Cavs on Tuesday, said he was waiting to see if LeBron would skip the powder ritual on Thursday.

"I'm a silly fan," O'Neal said. "I'm anxious to see if he's going to do that powder thing."

"He's done it for every game he's played so why change for just one game," Wade said. "If he doesn't throw it up, I'll throw it up for him."

O'Neal, who has felt the wrath of fans after leaving Orlando and Los Angeles, can't wait to find out. "We have bets that he doesn't do it," he said.

The Heat and the NBA have increased security for the team this season, but there will be even more measures taken to protect James and his teammates during their stay in Cleveland.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert isn't anticipating any trouble on Thursday night for James' first visit but the Cavs will have extra security in Quicken Loans Arena to ensure that James is protected.

"You don't want to see anything stupid happen," Gilbert said at halftime of Cleveland's game Tuesday night against Boston. "I don't want to see anybody do something they shouldn't do, whether it was Thursday night or any night. I'm sure a lot of them will make their feelings known, but as long as everybody plays by the rules and doesn't go over the top, everything will be fine.

"I really believe that Cleveland people will do the right thing."

Gilbert said he has moved on from James' departure, and is as focused as ever in keeping the Cavs near the top.

"I'm over it. I really am. That's the truth," he said. "I let it all out in about 24 hours. I just think we have such a great core and a great coaching staff. We have a lot of opportunities with the trade exception and the draft. I feel good about this team."

Heat forward Chris Bosh said it's beneficial that Miami will play the Cavaliers on the second night of a back-to-back set, which decreases the free time players will have in Cleveland.

"That's definitely something we've been talking about," Bosh said. "I think we all watched TV, and I think they took it quite hard when he left. So some people -- I don't know why -- but in sports, some people take it personal.

"Sometimes when you have an extra day to hang around, it's no telling what -- you want to feel safer," Bosh added. "That's not to speak for the whole city of Cleveland. But just like in every city, I'm sure it's people that have malcontent on their mind. With the fact that we're going in on the second night of a back-to-back, that lets us not have as much downtime. Just get in, play our game and get out of there."

Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who is as close to James as any player in the league, said it will be important for James to remain loose and maintain his normal process of preparing for a game.

"The only thing I would say to him is to not go out there and try to score 100 points," Wade said. "We've got to win. That's the most fun about anything. As long as you win, you walk out of there, you smile, we get the chicken wings that they have in the arena -- they got some of the best chicken wings that the NBA has. We just got to win."

Michael Wallace covers the NBA for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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