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LeBron is now the man in black

By Brian Mahoney

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Oct. 25 2010 11:06 p.m. MDT

Miami's LeBron James goes through his pre-game ritual.

Associated Press

LeBron James will be wearing black tonight, making his transformation complete.

In several NBA cities, he is now a bad guy.

After signing James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Miami Heat should be one of the league's best teams, and certainly its most divisive. Some fans can't get enough of the potential powerhouse, others already are suffering from Heat exhaustion.

"I think Miami fans have high expectations and want to see their team win and I think fans of other teams want to see them crash and burn. I think that's normal," ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said.

There's more of it with this team, though. Their unprecedented free agent haul received unprecedented media coverage, a large amount focused on how James let the world know he was leaving Cleveland.

He invited the "haters" to send comments to his Twitter page this week and received some racially insensitive comments. He was booed during a preseason game in Atlanta, but that's nothing compared to what he'll hear when he shows up the first time in Cleveland, and probably New York and Chicago, too.

Van Gundy expects all the lingering free agency drama to end once the regular season opens tonight. But Miami's players don't think Heat hatred will stop just because the games have started.

"It may be dying down for us, but teams and players are still getting asked questions and they're still taking hits at us. And that's OK," James said. "From a basketball standpoint, we understand what we have in this locker room and in this franchise. So we just have to be able to tune out everyone's comments and what they're saying and just try to get better."

James has been one of basketball's most popular players since the moment he entered the league as the No. 1 pick in 2003. He arrived with a good story line: the kid from Akron who got to stay home and turn Ohio's team into one of the NBA's best.

He decided it was time to leave this summer, understandable since he appears to have a better chance to win titles in Miami than he ever had in Cleveland. But he chose to announce his departure on an ESPN special titled "The Decision," a one-hour show that drew nearly unanimous criticism and ruined some goodwill it took years to build.

People couldn't comprehend why James would humiliate his home fans so publicly, and he could only watch as one burned a No. 23 Cavaliers jersey in the street.

"Listen, I don't get all the hatred — anywhere," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "I guess the press conference had a little bit to do with that."

Rivers' team put together a superstar trio three years ago when it acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in separate trades, pairing them with Paul Pierce. The Celtics stormed through the league to great fanfare and were largely a popular champion everywhere outside Los Angeles.

All three were veterans who'd never been close to a title, and Garnett in particular was well respected for how hard he fought for years in Minnesota. Rivers guessed the difference between his team and the Heat was that the Celtics built their team by trades instead of free agency, but Allen wasn't sure why Boston enjoyed a level of adoration that seems to be eluding Miami.

"I think people love the underdog and people love the story line. They love to see the guys that fought hard to get to that point want to win something. People love that Hollywood ending," Allen said. "So I don't know, I think their story has yet to be told. Obviously a lot happened over the summertime, but for us, so much drama now in the NBA that we all appreciate because there's no telling who could win."

James never told the Cavaliers he was leaving until the night of "The Decision," and Bosh similarly was vilified for largely breaking off communication with his Toronto Raptors. And while there's anger over the way the Heat were built, there's no doubt they are good for business.

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