It's still one of the most anticipated regular-season games in NBA history. It's also one of the scariest since LeBron's move rocked Cleveland's fan base to its core. And it showed on that cold Tuesday night in December.
To say the atmosphere in Quicken Loans Arena was hostile would be an understatement. The crowd was in a frenzy, holding signs, chanting "Akron hates you," and showering James with boos. From famous Cleveland athletes to famous actors, everyone was on a mission to intimidate Cavs' former superstar. It was them against him.
Players, on the other hand, were focused on winning a game of basketball. Except for Ryan Hollins. He was sent on another mission -- to hurt the Akron native in his first game back home.
Leading up to the game, I was told by so many people to give him an extra elbow and hit him on the way down. It was so personal for everybody.
Ryan Hollins, The Athletic
It can get personal with fans. When they feel betrayed, most of the time, it does. But the line should be drawn at the organizational level, and crossing it should never be an option, no matter the circumstances. People within the Cavs crossed the line that night, but thankfully, weren't able to persuade Hollins to do the same.
What happened on the floor never reached the sphere of unsportsmanlike conduct, and the scariest game in recent NBA history played out normally. LeBron led the Heat to a 118-90 victory with 38 points, 5 rebounds, and 8 assists on 15-for-25 shooting from the floor. When he checked out for good at the end of the third quarter, Miami was already up by 30, and their 12th win of the season was a lock.
It was something that nobody had ever seen before. Everybody knew the emotions behind it. Cable television made sure that they captured every moment. It was an eerie feeling, just going back. It was an uncomfortable feeling going back because of the situation.
LeBron James, ESPN
It could've been a lot more uncomfortable for LeBron. Thankfully, Ryan Hollins and the rest of the Cavs players proved to be bigger men than some other people in the organization. We all know who's the first person that came to mind.