Nearly three years after the free-agency move that got him labeled a traitor, Carlos Boozer is back in town with the Utah Jazz.
Tonight, Clevelanders will release nearly three seasons worth of pent-up anger at Boozer. Think we're over it? Then you missed it when Jim Thome was booed in his return to Jacobs Field with the Chicago White Sox last season. We actually liked him. And remember the fake money that came flying out of the bleachers when Albert Belle returned with the ChiSox in 1997 after bolting as a free agent? There was enough to fill a store aisle full of Monopoly games.
This is a guy who inspired CarlosLoozer.com, for goodness' sakes. He's on the Mount Rushmore of hated Cleveland sports figures, along with Art Modell, John Elway, and the Pittsburgh Steelers logo.
Sure, booing Boozer might seem kind of sad and petty, like snarking at an ex-girlfriend who you've long moved on from. Look at the Cavs now -- seven-game winning streak, second-best record in the Eastern Conference, national television about once a week to showcase LeBron James, a capable Boozer replacement in Drew Gooden (11.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg). Everything's going quite well, thank you.
But even if you moved on to marry Eva Longoria, your ex still wouldn't be welcome in your house, not after being accused of stabbing a blind man in the back, not even three years later. Especially not on Cleveland's own national holiday, St. Patrick's Day, otherwise known as Drunk Day. And ESPECIALLY not with a better record at 43-22 -- led by the traitor, Carlos Boozer, who is averaging 20.9 ppg and 11.5 rpg. It's like giving the most dazzling diamond ring to Eva, only to see your ex show up with one that's just a bit better.
You can blame the Cleveland mindset for what's going to happen tonight just as much as you can blame Boozer leaving for the Jazz in the summer of 2004. It was another psychological jolt to a city that's reeled from those punches for years and years. In one sense we've moved out quite well, what with the Cavs rising toward the top of the NBA. But then again, this is Cleveland. The Boozer move was just another in a long line of bad things that have happened to us, almost like it's our birthright. Perhaps if we truly enjoyed long-term success in any of our sports endeavors we would be able to move past Boozer with no problem and let him get away with just a smattering of boos. But so often it seems that things are a mirage. The Indians fell on their face last year after a 2005 season that left them on the brink of the playoffs. The Browns can't get out of their own way. And in the back of our minds we're bracing ourselves for the moment that LeBron announces he's going to the Knicks. We're like a beaten puppy, afraid to embrace anything good for fear it will be taken away once again.
That's today will be a day of booze and boos, boozers and Boozers, when Carlos returns to The Q. It will be like the world's largest collective drunk dial, as an alcohol-soaked crowd will let its true feelings out, dousing Carlos Boozer and the Jazz in one of the loudest derisive cheers ever heard in Cleveland.
And that's the way it should be.