CLEVELAND • The rest of the Los Angeles Lakers were already on the floor, as were the Cleveland Cavaliers, when LeBron James finally burst out of a tunnel to join the pre-game lay-up lines on Wednesday.
The expectant crowd at the Quicken Loans Arena greeted the greatest player in the Cavaliers' history with a surge of warm applause.
Minutes later, the noise level rose several notches when James was the last member of the Lakers' starting five to be introduced.
A full-fledged, 30-second standing ovation for James followed when the Cavaliers played a "Thank You, LeBron" tribute video during the first timeout in the first quarter.
The atmosphere at The Q, as it is known, was tame for long stretches. But the home crowd cheered James' dominance in the Lakers' 109-105 National Basketball Association comeback victory over the Cavaliers, who were paced by 21 points from Cedi Osman.
The 14-time All-Star led all scorers with 32 points, while grabbing 14 rebounds and adding seven assists to spark the Lakers, who closed the contest with an 18-6 run for their sixth victory in seven games.
And the "King" admitted afterwards that "the reception he got meant a lot to him and his family".
"I appreciate these fans, just as much as they appreciate me. My 11 years I played for this franchise, I tried to give everything I could on and off the court," James said of the royal treatment he received.
"We cranked up our defence. They (the Cavaliers) played a heck of a game, but we kept our composure. We're a young crew. We keep getting better."
The evening, in short, will stand in stark contrast to the pure and unrelenting vitriol heaped upon James nearly eight years ago, when he made his first appearance in this building as a member of the Miami Heat following his then controversial free-agent move in the summer of 2010.
A theory began to gain steam during last season's Finals that Cavaliers fans - grateful for the 2016 championship title while also sympathetic to the widening gap between their team and champions the Golden State Warriors - were so appreciative of James' efforts that they would bless the idea of their home-grown star leaving them in free agency for a second time.
This happy homecoming was the first tangible evidence that the basketball romantics were right.
It did not hurt that the Cavaliers, who fired Tyronn Lue as their coach after a 0-6 start to the term and earlier this week sent veteran guard J.R. Smith away, committed zero turnovers in the first half and managed to take a 96-87 lead into the final seven minutes.
The Lakers ultimately recovered to hold off the team sporting the league's worst record (2-14) and, in doing so, improved to 10-7, their best record since April 2013.
While the nature of James' return was bittersweet, with supporters well aware that the Cavaliers have not made the play-offs without him on the roster since 1998, coach Larry Drew still felt it was "a big night for Cleveland" to pay tribute to a "hero that had come back".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NY TIMES