When they arrived, they were ready to welcome a new hero. When they left, they were intent on hating a new villain.
LeBron James went from New York's basketball savior to persona non grata in a millisecond on Thursday night. One moment, expectant fans were huddled around portable TVs and laptops; the next, a collective howl of disapproval detonated from the Greenwich crowd before James could finish saying "Miami Heat."
So ended years of speculation, which built up to a frenzy while the NBA's better teams still battled for a championship -- and reached absurd proportions this week as teams courted the "king," sportswriters gossiped like school girls, and it all ended with a made-for-TV special in which James dropped the bomb.
The result was catastrophic to local sports fans, who assembled just eight miles from the Port Chester border hoping the persistent Miami rumors were just an elaborate ruse to add further excitement to the already-overblown spectacle. After all, fans reasoned, James wouldn't really make the announcement just a stone's throw from the New York border -- and a Knicks practice facility -- if he planned to sign with another team. He wouldn't risk angering thousands of fans chanting his name right outside the building he chose to make his announcement.
Oh, but he would.
"A real slap in the face," said Chris Jewett of White Plains. "He needs to lose the Yankee hat and get out of our town."
The crowd seethed.
"I'm really, really pissed off," said Gabriel Lima, moments after James' decision. "He should get out of Greenwich right now. I have no idea why he would come to Greenwich, New York's backyard, to announce he's going to South Beach."
Before James' announcement, fans who lined the sidewalks in front of the Boys and Girls Club treated the Miami rumor as a worrying -- but ultimately unrealistic -- possibility. Why would James want to join two other superstars to play sidekick?
Lima, of Greenwich, derisively compared James to Michael Jordan's sidekick.
"He's done," he said. "He'll be the best Scottie Pippen of all time."
In addition to crushing hopes, the move will significantly alter the NBA landscape. The nickname "The Big Three" will no longer refer to the aging collection of stars fielded by the Boston Celtics, the deafening Madison Square Garden of the late 1990s will not be revived, and suddenly Kobe Bryant and his Lakers -- the reigning NBA champions -- look outmatched.
Some fans say that makes everything less interesting as observers expect to see the new Miami squad cruise to an immediate championship. And, like Knicks Hall of Famer Clyde Frazier, who said James "took the easy way out," fans say they're disappointed James decided to join his rivals, rather than take them on.
"My friends and I, we can't even describe the feeling of how disappointing this is ," said Knicks fan J.C. Sites. "It's an awful move. It's a punk move, to be completely honest."
Thomas Johnson of Bridgeport came prepared for both outcomes -- his printed black sign read "All Hail King James" on one side, and "LeBum" in blocky white letters on the other. Others weren't so reserved in expressing their newfound hate for James, leading expletive-laden chants as they shook their fists at the building where James was talking to an ESPN interviewer on live television. It was enough to wonder if James could feel the displeasure from inside.
But not everyone went home from Greenwich unhappy. A handful of Miami fans suddenly tried to look less conspicuous in their jerseys, but couldn't contain their enthusiasm.
"I had my doubts, but starting today I thought he was going to come," said Heat fan Eric Hannah. "I can't wait to watch them play."