FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- In general, the Miami Heat have been able to avoid these moments, what they will face with LeBron James' Thursday return to Cleveland.
When Shaquille O'Neal went back to Los Angeles on Christmas Day in 2004 there was a warm embrace, with the Lakers presenting an emotional pregame video presentation at Staples Center.
When Alonzo Mourning returned to Charlotte in 1995 after forcing his preseason trade from the Hornets, it turned into a non-event, with Mourning sidelined by a foot injury.
When the Heat played in Orlando that same year after Matt Geiger broke Shaquille O'Neal's thumb in a preseason game, rancor never ruled, mostly because Geiger had been traded by then to Charlotte for Mourning.
But there has been one night when the venom and vitriol was vented like none other in the franchise's 23 seasons, a night that Thursday might surpass in terms of bitterness but can't match in terms of bombast.
On Dec. 19, 1995, Pat Riley, better known at that moment in New York as Pat the Rat, returned to Madison Square Garden seven months after faxing in his resignation as New York Knicks coach and just over three months after taking over as Heat coach and team president.
Never before, and never since, at least until now, have the Heat experienced such a moment of malice.
"It was like your father getting booed, or your uncle, somebody you loved," Heat guard Pete Myers said at the time.
For all of Riley's life coaching of LeBron to this point, the last thing Riley likely wants is for James to emulate his 1995 approach, when he encouraged fans to bring it on with his pregame arm gestures, an approach Knicks fan and filmmaker Spike Lee called "hammish." It was the equivalent of James attempting to send his pregame talc to the rafters one more time Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena.
"I embraced what the fans had to offer," Riley said at the time.
Thursday's setting will be similar in aspects beyond antipathy. The Heat went into the Dec. 19, 1995 game shorthanded, without starters Mourning, Kevin Willis, Billy Owens and Sasha Danilovic. The Heat will arrive Thursday in Cleveland without sidelined Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller.
As the Heat does now, that Heat team appreciated what was coming, with center Danny Schayes quipping, "I think New York fans are notorious for their warm welcomes."
Because Thursday's game is the second night of a back-to-back set, after a home game Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons, the Heat's time in Cleveland will be minimal. For Riley's New York return in 1995, Riley actually was honored at a party the night before at Emporio Armani on Fifth Avenue, the Heat then arrived at the Garden a half-hour later than usual and declined pregame media access, an action that led to a $25,000 NBA fine.
And yet, there was a degree of warmth, with former Riley players Patrick Ewing, John Starks and Derek Harper all embracing Riley just before that opening tip.
"I just felt the need to do something when I heard the crowd," Harper said. "I wished him a Merry Christmas."
That was the limit to the holiday cheer, with nothing nearly as festive forecast for Thursday.
The Heat lost 89-70 that night in New York, to fall to 13-12, similar to the current .500-ish struggles.
A day later, Riley acknowledged "it was wearing; it was tiring."
IN THE LANE
ILL-FATED SUCCESSOR: Add following LeBron James to the list of toughest jobs in sports. Former Heat forward Jamario Moon lasted 12 games as the Cleveland Cavaliers' replacement at small forward, before the job was handed to Joey Graham. Moon averaged 6.3 points and 4.6 rebounds in starting the first dozen games. "It doesn't matter. I've done both," said the affable Moon, who left the Heat as a free agent in the 2009 offseason to play alongside James. "You still have to do the job." Coach Byron Scott plans to give Graham about the same amount of starts in his audition.
SHAQ'S SLAM: Considering that the bond he built with Udonis Haslem endured beyond his ugly parting with the Heat, Shaquille O'Neal likely was referencing others when he alluded to his latest man crush, Boston Celtics teammate Kevin Garnett. "I've played on a lot of other teams where the other team didn't have to respect the four," said O'Neal, who played almost exclusively alongside Haslem with the Heat. "So being that they have to respect him means that there's a lot more room for me."
2010 A.B. (AFTER BOSH): For Toronto Raptors General Manager Bryan Colangelo, the trade with the New Orleans Hornets for Peja Stojakovic and Jerryd Bayless basically was the start of a new era, one out of the shadows of offseason free-agent defector Chris Bosh. "If the last four years were about building around Chris Bosh," Colangelo said, "I think the next four years are about building without Chris Bosh. This is a step in that direction." Toronto still has a $12 million trade exception from the sign-and-trade transaction that formally sent Bosh to the Heat.
GETTING IT WRONG: Kevin McHale continues to coach from the Turner studios, and during his recent appearance on NBA TV wasn't all that impressed with the Heat. "From a basketball standpoint," he said, "there is too much standing around. People aren't working for each other. We have often talked about guys running; you have to run for your teammates. There is no one getting out in front of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, collapsing the defense, giving them lanes, giving them opportunities. There is not enough ball movement or body movement."
MUTED RESPECT: Yes, Los Angeles Lakers forward Ron Artest is impressed with former Heat forward Michael Beasley, but only to a degree. "Beasley should watch LeBron James," Artest said. "Beasley's actually a better shooter than LeBron, but the smarts are not there. He's talking so much trash instead of worrying about the game. He needs to become a winner." Artest said Beasley relies too much on the mid-range jumper, "He's so athletic and quick and strong, but eventually somebody's going to catch on to it." Countered Beasley, who is thriving with the Minnesota Timberwolves, "The reason I do the same thing is because they can't stop it. As soon as they stop it, I'll do something else."
BLAME IT ON WADE: With childhood friend Beasley thriving in Minnesota, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant says a lot of it has to do with Beasley's divorce from Dwyane Wade. "I think I was happier than he was when he got traded to Minnesota, because now he's able to show what kind of player he is," Durant said. "In Miami, he was a complement to Dwyane Wade. . . . People kind of doubted him a little because he was playing alongside Dwyane Wade and couldn't really showcase his skills. But now, he's taking the league by storm."
A NO-SHOW: This time, there isn't even pretense with Marcus Banks. The Hornets don't want the former Heat guard and have told him as much in the wake of last week's trade with the Raptors. Instead, Banks has been told to stay away from the team, with Jarrett Jack the Hornets' true target in the deal. So the contract that Banks brought to the Heat from the Phoenix Suns and then took from the Heat to Toronto will now play out in its final season with a $4.8 million payment for Banks to do nothing but sit around and collect checks, sort of like he was doing in Miami and Toronto, anyway. The Hornets instead are content with Jack, Willie Green and Marcus Thornton rounding out the backcourt rotation behind Chris Paul and Marco Belinelli.
BY THE NUMBERS
2. Times in NBA history a player has attempted at least 13 field goals and five free throws and made one or fewer of each, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Dwyane Wade did it with his 1 of 13 and 1 of 5 Monday against Indiana, with the New York Knicks' Max Zaslofsky 1 of 13 and 0 for 5 against the Philadelphia Warriors in 1951.
"I don't think people really register how important he is on that team. His ability to shoot the ball, to be that spot-up guy and that screen guy has been really important."--Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson, on sidelined Heat forward Udonis Haslem.