On the same night that the last true Toronto star returned, it apears that another may have arrived in the form of the Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista -- or at least his contract has. The job of designated Toronto star otherwise remains open - no Phil Kessel is not a candidate. We have that, the posible end of the Albert Pujols era in St. Louis and more; just don't boo me, 'kay?
1. LeBron James is no Chris Bosh, and Toronto is no Cleveland
The 19,800 at the Air Canada Centre got it right. The first fan I saw was proudly clutching a sign reading: Miami Heat -- Two-and-a-half men. Way up at the top of the building where every seat was full, you couldn’t quite call the atmosphere electric, but when the man they came to boo got the ball, they sat up, they paid attention. They booed. Others chanted “over-rated” – and if it was some of the same ones who chanted "M-V-P" in year’s past, well, that’s the privilege that comes with buying a ticket.
But vitriol? Hate? Nahh.
The mood in the Heat locker room before the game was a mixture of curiousity and amusement – most of the amusement coming from LeBron James when he saw both Montreal’s Joel Anthony and Toronto’s Jamaal Magloire entertaining small scrums of reporters before the game. James just walked by giggling.
There was curiosity about what might be waiting for them out on the floor as Chris Bosh made his first appearance in Toronto after leaving in free agency. But not concern; not a chance. This Heat team has been to Cleveland, and to listen to former Cavaliers star Zydrunas Ilgauskas tell it, no experience will ever match it.
“You could feel the hatred,” said Ilguaskas. “And not just in the arena, everywhere in the city.”
While Ilgauskas played 12 years in Cleveland before joining the Heat as a free agent, nearly all of the venom was reserved for James, who burned every ounce of capital seven years of service had earned him with ill-fated ESPN television special announcing his departure, one of the all-time poor public relations decisions in sports history.
Ilguaskas avoided most of it because he’s not a franchise player, he says, but taking out a full-page newspaper ad to thank the fans of Cleveland probably helped.
It was a gesture that Bosh might have considered. That’s all the fans want, in the end: a bit of respect; some acknowledgement that their support over the years meant something.
But even without that the fans at the ACC – as Hayley Mick reported – were often in conflict. There were those angry or disappointed with Bosh for leaving - or at least for how he left -- and those still appreciative of the seven good years he had while he was here. Bosh said after the game his dramatic turn at centre court, blowing kisses to all four corners of the arena, was an attempt to acknowledge both types of fans.
In the end what the Heat heard last night, the way Ilgauskas made it sound, wasn’t all that much different than what the Heat get every where they go as the NBA’s designated black hat.
And on an otherwise routine night in February, against yet another opponent that has had this date circled since the schedule came out, and a crowd looking for a season highlight in a year sorely lacking in them so far, a little hate can add a little spice.
“It’s made us close as a team,” said Ilguaskas. “Every where we go it’s nasty, on the streets, in the restaurants we go to. It’s like we’re the garbage can of the NBA and everyone saves up their garbage and throws it at us. But it’s helped from a camaradrie standpoint. We’ve had no one to turn to but each other.”
So while Bosh admitted to some anxiety about how he’d be greeted in his first night back after seven years, his teammates have been through worse. They had his back, but didn’t feel like he'd need it.
“He’s my teammate, my friend,” Ilgauskas said as he got ready for what for him was just another night at the NBA office. “I just hope no one does anything stupid other than booing.
"But we’re used to that.”
2. The Bosh era is over, is it Bautista's time?Report Typo/Error