CLEVELAND -- LeBron James made his official return to Cleveland on Thursday, and the Cavaliers' season opener against the New York Knicks was just as much a civic celebration as it was a basketball game.
Thousands of fans descended upon downtown Cleveland. The lucky ones had tickets to the game, with prices soaring north of $10,000 on the secondary market, while others showed up in droves hours before tipoff to take in a free concert from Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons as a part of TNT's broadcast set up in a parking lot across from Quicken Loans Arena.
James was feeling his Ohio roots before the game, too, blasting Bone Thugs-n-Harmony -- the hip-hop group that originated in Cleveland -- in the locker room as he slipped on a Cavaliers uniform for his first home opener since playing for the wine and gold in 2009.
The game had more than Cleveland's attention, too. The celebrities in attendance included Justin Bieber, David Beckham, Michael Strahan and noted Knicks fan Spike Lee.
Shortly before tipoff, a large portion of the soldout crowd stood in rapt attention while Nike's new commercial "Together," highlighting James' return to Cleveland, played in its entirety on the Cavs new video scoreboard dubbed the "humongotron" by owner Dan Gilbert.
The fans also joined in on the final verse of Usher's rendition of the national anthem, creating a resounding cacophony throughout the building and waving blinking red light-up batons. Later, fans opened individual packets of confetti placed on every seat to throw in the air at the same time James performed his ritualistic pregame chalk toss.
"The way [LeBron is] basically saying he's doing it for the city, he feels entitled to come back and win a championship for the city, that's something everybody in this locker room wants to do," Haden said. "For him to show that [love] to Cleveland and the fans, that's really special."
"It makes it so much realer when you're really living it," Haden added. "If I didn't play for Cleveland and I wasn't really around the city and really didn't know the fans and didn't really know how passionate they were and how they really felt, you wouldn't really understand. But being a part of it, being here, being downtown interacting with the fans all the time, they are serious about how much they love their sports and how much they want to win so bad. It's just a good feeling. You can't really explain, can't really put your finger on it. It excites everybody."
The night lived up to James' description of the event earlier in the day after Cavs shootaround.
"For me, I know all of us shouldn't take this moment for granted," James said. "This is probably one of the biggest sporting events that is up there ever."