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Kyrie Irving wasn’t a member of the Cavaliers yet in December 2010, but like most NBA fans back then, he probably remembers what it was like for LeBron James to play in Cleveland for the first time following his departure to the Heat. From the moment LeBron walked on the floor at Quicken Loans Arena as a player for the visiting team, he was booed relentlessly by the hometown crowd. Cleveland hated LeBron for leaving—and they were more than happy to let him know about it by booing in unison for most of the game.
On Tuesday night, Irving is going to find out what that’s like when he makes his return to Cleveland following his trade to the Celtics this summer. Irving essentially forced the Cavaliers to trade him—and then burned all of the bridges between himself and the organization on his way out. So all of the Cavaliers fans who spent the last six seasons cheering for him are likely going to boo TF out of him when he takes the court for his very first game with the Celtics, something Irving said he's been mentally preparing himself for.
"There is no blocking out the noise or anything like that," he said. "It’s going to be there whether I like it or not. It’s going to be rowdy in there."
Irving is one of many NBA players who will go through the drama of making a hostile homecoming this NBA season. Paul George will do the same thing when he plays back in Indiana for the first time since getting traded to the Thunder. Jimmy Butler will do it, too, when he makes his way back to Chicago for his first game against the Bulls. And of course, Carmelo Anthony will eventually find himself back on the court at Madison Square Garden for a game against the Knicks.
With all of these potentially awkward reunions set to take place during the upcoming 2017-18 NBA season, we figured now would be as good a time as any to look back at some of The Most Dramatic Homecomings in Recent NBA History™. These guys can probably still hear the boos ringing in their ears.
Homecoming date: 3/22/2012
New team: Los Angeles Clippers
Former team: New Orleans Hornets
How dramatic did it get? CP3 said he expected Hornets fans to have "mixed emotions" upon his return to New Orleans, and that’s essentially what they had. Some cheered him, while others booed him. When you consider all of the controversy that he caused when he left town, it might be surprising to hear that more people didn’t boo. But then again, CP3 bought a billboard thanking fans and paid for about 150 students to attend his return game, so it wasn’t a huge shock to see him get a mild ovation during pre-game introductions at New Orleans Arena.
Homecoming date: 3/12/2013
New team: Los Angeles Lakers
Former team: Orlando Magic
How dramatic did it get? Howard said he had "fun" during this game at the Amway Center, but it didn’t seem like a very fun environment. He was booed when he was introduced to the crowd, and he was fouled 24 times during the game as the Magic unleashed their Hack-a-Howard strategy on him. Howard has made a habit out of making awkward homecomings, too. In addition to this one, he also made one with the Lakers after signing with the Rockets, and another with the Rockets after later signing with the Hawks. He’ll probably make one with the Hawks this season, too, after being traded to the Hornets in the offseason. But he should obviously be used to them by now.
Homecoming date: 3/13/2013
New team: New York Knicks
Former team: Denver Nuggets
How dramatic did it get? Due to an NBA lockout and the timing of the trade that sent Carmelo to New York City, he actually didn’t make his return to the Pepsi Center in Denver until more than two years after he was traded. But time did not heal the wound Carmelo created when he asked the Nuggets to trade him. He was booed during pre-game introductions, and to make matters worse, he also sustained knee troubles during the game, which the Knicks eventually lost by 23 points.
Homecoming date: 1/31/2015
New team: Cleveland Cavaliers
Former team: Minnesota Timberwolves
How dramatic did it get? Of all the homecomings listed here, this was probably the most tame. There was only a smattering of boos directed at Love at the Target Center. On some level, Wolves fans almost seemed like they understood why Love wanted to get out of there to join the Cavaliers.
Homecoming date: 11/4/2016
New team: New York Knicks
Former team: Chicago Bulls
How dramatic did it get? Despite all of the injuries he suffered, Rose was the cornerstone of the Bulls’ franchise for many years. But even that didn’t stop some Bulls fans from booing him—and former Bulls center Joakim Noah—when they returned to the United Center as Knicks. Rose said he didn’t mind hearing the boos from his hometown. "I love when the crowd is into it," he said. "I knew it was going to be some yells. I knew there was going to be some boos. I’m from here. I’m used to it."
Homecoming date: 1/13/2017
New team: Boston Celtics
Former team: Atlanta Hawks
How dramatic did it get? Horford wasn’t necessarily the flashiest player during his time in Atlanta, but he did prove to be one of the best players in Hawks history. So it came as a surprise when he was greeted by boos during his return to Philips Arena last season after signing with the Celtics in the summer. Such a surprise that his then-teammate Isaiah Thomas ripped Hawks fans for going that route. "You don’t boo a guy like that," Thomas said, expressing his disgust with those in Atlanta. "That’s disrespectful."
Homecoming date: 2/11/2017
New team: Golden State Warriors
Former team: Oklahoma City Thunder
How dramatic did it get? The Warriors beat the Thunder in KD’s return to OKC last February, but it couldn’t have gone much worse for him. He was showered with boos from the time he ran out of the tunnel at Chesapeake Energy Arena, and the Thunder fans didn’t let up for the duration of the game. Many of them wore T-shirts with cupcakes on them—a nod to Russell Westbrook’s nickname for KD—letting Durant know, in no uncertain terms, that he was no longer welcome in OKC.