The 20,562 fans arrived late Saturday night, trickling into The Q as the Cavaliers and Knicks warmed up against a backdrop of an empty arena. On a wintry night best enjoyed by polar bears and Eskimos, fans would soon fill the joint.
For unlike the old days, people don't miss a Cavaliers play. Their downtown arena is no longer the echo chamber it once was, a place where NBA fans used to find as many empty seats as they could at nearby Progressive Field.
In recent seasons, The Q has been the place in town to watch the game's best player. Nobody with one of those pricy tickets has wanted to miss King James perform. Everybody longs to be within an arm's reach or a glance of NBA royalty, regardless of how cold or how much snow he had to endure.
So there the fans were, 20,562 strong, packed inside, away from the February cold and snow that had turned the city in a white wasteland -- 20,562 strong, jammed to the rafters; padded seats from floor to ceiling with someone's butt in them.
From Loudville to LeBron's Kingdom and Boobie's Ballers, they came to The Q to see the greatest show in hoops: the King and the hottest team in basketball -- a team that treated them this night to its 12th win in a row and counting.
How do people with a ticket miss this?
They didn't miss it, which explains about as well as anything else what King James has meant to this city.
His arrival -- or was it a coronation? -- coincided with the chronic struggles of the Browns and the fire sale that dismantled the Indians. His arrival made the NBA matter, no easy trick in what's, essentially, a football town.
Season after season of failure saw the town's affinity toward the Browns wane. Love affairs can be fickle, often discarded when something prettier, more glamorous, more thrilling came along under an owner with more dollars than smarts. He stocked his NFL franchise with no stars; he brought in no one who could warm a fan's heart like King James or no one who could play worth a damn.
So what was left for fans here to love ? How can they love a team that broke their hearts and didn't win? They turned their affections elsewhere. They fell in love with the King.
Miss him play?
Not now, not when he's brought greatness to a city that could use and appreciate it.
Miss him play?
You can't. How could you? To miss King James perform this night would have been to miss his breathless 23-point opening act, a solo performance that almost matched the 24 points the Knicks scored. With 9:37 left in the half, the King had push his point total to 31. The Knicks also had 31, and the Cavs held a 21-point lead.
In a city starved for a championship, you can't miss what might be its best chance to win one since the Indians came within one-two-three ninth inning of winning the '97 World Series. You can't miss the King play.
You can't stay away from an arena he fills with thrills, the place for people in Cleveland to be -- the only place for them to be -- when King James performs.
Miss King James any night, and you've missed the chance to see what might be the best player ever play -- a player better than Jordan and Magic or Byrd and Wilt or West and Dr. J or Russell and Kareem or Kobe and Oscar.
Nobody with a ticket missed King James, not this night in The Q. Braving the chill, 20,562 fans saw him score 47 points and lead the Cavaliers to a 107-104 victory. They enjoyed his performance.
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