Little risk in this wager: NBA's greats are used to hearing fans' boos

LeBron James may still not get any love from Chicago fans tonight, even as he honors his World Series bet with Dwyane Wade

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

CHICAGO — The prospect of seeing both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in Chicago uniforms adds a little something-something to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ visit to United Center to face the Chicago Bulls Friday night (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET).

It might even mix up the boos and the cheers a little from what fans typically dole out to visiting players, particularly for a visiting, great and polarizing player like James.

Wade is in the midst of his first season with the Bulls, signing as a free agent in July after crafting a Hall of Fame resume in 13 seasons with the Miami Heat. Meanwhile, James will be wearing a Chicago Cubs uniform, his payoff of a friendly wager between Wade and himself during the 2016 Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians World Series.

The terms of the bet specified that the loser show up at the other’s arena this season in either full Cubs or Indians regalia, from cap to socks (no cleats). This is a pre-game thing meant for those in the United Center’s bowels – and for photographers as well as national and local reporters.

There was nothing specified that James couldn’t sprint from the team bus after it pulls into the arena’s loading dock area, covered up completely in an overcoat, to minimize his exposure as an honorary reluctant Cub. But Wade didn’t think James would near-welch that way anyway.

“Aw, he’s a stand-up guy, man,” Wade said. “He’s a class guy. He’s going to let you guys get your moments. I’m going to have my camera crew out there too. We’re gonna get our moments. We’re gonna have fun with it. That’s all it is, fun. It’s nothing more than that.”

When footage of James’ entrance plays on the United Center videoboards at some point tonight, the 21,000-plus fans in the stands will share in that fun. They might actually cheer James for once, despite his success against the Bulls and his 2010 free-agent flirtation with them, because it would seem heresy to boo someone in Cubbies gear. Once he dons the Cavs’ wine-and-gold, though, all bets — even the one with Wade — are off.

Still, the topic of cheers and boos according to who’s at home and who’s on the road occasionally goes beyond fun. A few years ago, when Wade and James were Heat teammates visiting the UC for a hotly contested game against the Bulls, Wade fell to the floor hard and momentarily looked like he might be hurt. There was cheering and applause in that moment and, in comments to reporters afterward, Wade scolded any sports fans who would root so callously for a visiting athlete to get injured.

“Getting booed by a crowd is what you expect,” Wade said Thursday after practice. “They cheer for their home team. I was saying [previously] from an injury standpoint, that’s a little cruel. I never clapped when someone got injured. I never prayed that someone got injured. No matter what.

“Why do you want someone out? I want everyone in. I want my team to beat them full-go. I don’t want to say, ‘We won but…’ ”

As one of the NBA’s most recognizable names and faces — and three seasons removed from Miami’s “Super Friends” villainy — Wade said he actually gets cheered during lineup introductions in some cities. “Then the game starts and they start booing you,” he said. “That’s what they’re supposed to do.”

Harsh as some fan feedback can be, Wade knows that silence can be worse. Earlier this week, for instance, Metta World Peace — a former Bulls player in his Ron Artest days, as well as a longtime antagonist as a visitor — came and went with the Los Angeles Lakers. He sat at the end of the visitors’ bench in his warm-ups, never had his name mentioned on the P.A. system and never stirred any real reaction, save for a few fans within arm’s length.

Said Wade: “When it comes to boos and stuff, for me, especially now I enjoy any boo I get, any cheer I get. Because one day you’re not going to have those boos or cheers. You’re going to walk into somewhere and no one is going to say a word. You’re gonna be like, ‘Where are the boos and cheers? Where did they go?’

“So I relish ‘em.”

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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