The sports world, and sports fans, have their own way of welcoming players that decide to leave their teams. It typically involves a lot of booing and a hostile environment to let them know they made the wrong decision.
Fans will be able to voice their displeasure as two of the most anticipated sports homecomings of the year will both happen on Thursday.
In the NHL, Jack Eichel and his Vegas Golden Knights visit the Buffalo Sabres four months after the trade that sent the star player to Sin City.
In the NBA, Ben Simmons will not be playing for his Brooklyn Nets but will be in the building with the notoriously tough Philadelphia crowd. On his end, the red-hot James Harden will have an opportunity to stick it to his former team.
Here are some of the more memorable hostile homecomings in sports:
Vince Carter back in Toronto
To say that Air Canada wasn’t very well received in his first game back in Toronto would be an understatement. After forcing a trade to the New Jersey Nets, Carter returned to Canada on April 15, 2005 and Raptors fans clearly had the date circled in their calendars.
Fans burned No. 15 jerseys, held signs and heavily booed their former favourite from the announcement of the starting lineup all the way to the end of the Nets’ 101-90 win over the Raptors.
South Beach LeBron visits Cleveland
A few months after his infamous “Decision,” LeBron James returned to play his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers as a member of the Miami Heat. The betrayed Cleveland fans were not over James’ move, which resulted in a flurry of burnt jerseys over the summer of 2010.
Thunderous boos rained on the Quicken Loans Arena as James put up 38 points in a 118-90 Heat win on Dec. 2, 2010. James later told ESPN that: “It was probably the loudest I’ve ever heard boos in my life.”
John Tavares booed during Islanders tribute video
John Tavares was once synonymous with the New York Islanders. The centreman was the first overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft and was the star player on Long Island from 2009 to 2018.
Tavares signed a seven-year $77 million deal with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2018 free-agency period. In his first game back, the Islanders made a tribute video but Isles fans had other thoughts. The Isles beat the Leafs 6-1 in that game on March 1, 2019.
Eric Lindros returns to Philly as a Ranger
There was hostility both on and off the ice for Eric Lindros’ return to Philadelphia as a member of the New York Rangers on Jan. 12, 2002. Before the game, Donald Brashear said he would go after Lindros physically. In the pre-game skate, Brashear had words with New York’s Theo Fleury and Matthew Barnaby. Lindros was held scoreless in a 4-2 Flyers win, much to the delight of fans in attendance.
Luis Figo back in Barcelona as a Madrid Galactico
The rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid runs deep. When Portuguese superstar Luis Figo crossed the rivalry line by joining the Madrid Galacticos, Barca fans treated him as persona non grata.
His return to Camp Nou was welcomed by whistles from Barcelona faithfuls and a whirlwind of insults on Oct. 21, 2000. Barcelona centre back Abelardo later told MARCA: “I did feel sorry for him at times during the game.”
That wasn’t enough for Barcelona fans. A year later, a fan threw a pig’s head at Figo while he prepared for a corner kick.
Robin Van Persie’s return to Arsenal
Van Persie’s return to the Emirates stadium on April 28, 2013 was both hostile and awkward. The Dutchman left North London fans red with rage by moving to heavy hitters Manchester United and won the Premier League in his very first season.
The Red Devils had secured the title the week before thanks to a Van Persie hat trick and as is the tradition in England, would finish the season under a guard of honour. Arsenal fans booed as they watched their own team applaud their former player and his new club.
Kawhi Leonard back in San Antonio
After the famous trade that sent Leonard to Toronto with fan favourite DeMar DeRozan going the other way, San Antonio Spurs fans couldn’t wait to show their displeasure during the Raptors’ starting lineup announcement on Jan. 3, 2019.
The Spurs made a tribute video for their former NBA Champion and Finals MVP. While they cheered for Danny Green, who was also involved in the trade, Spurs fans had nothing nice to say to Leonard, who eventually lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy as a Raptor later that season.
Mariners fans throw Monopoly money at Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod left the Seattle Mariners to sign an historic 10-year $252-million contract with the Texas Rangers. While some Mariners fans showed up with welcoming signs on April 16, 2001, others took no time to point out the elephant in the room.
Signs reading “sell-out” were raised at the ball park while Monopoly money flew from the stands in Rodriguez’s first game back in the Pacific Northwest.