Dion Waiters explains why ‘people from the hood’ in Cleveland love him

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When Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters played in his first game in more than a year on Wednesday night, he did so against the team he began his NBA career with: the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Despite being traded away by the Cavaliers in January 2015, he has warmth for the community, especially those in the inner city.

Waiters explained after the game how being amongst fans off the court is a chief reason why he feels that Cleveland fans grew to love him during his relatively brief time with the team. He specifically cited one particular demographic:

“Especially the people from the hood, they loved me. I’ve always been authentic.”

Going further with those thoughts, the fact that four years have passed since Waiters was dealt by the Cavs hasn’t diminished his fondness for the city and its people:

“I’m always going to have love for Cleveland. Like I said, Cleveland took a chance on a kid from Philadelphia. At the end of the day, I’m always going to have love for them. When I come back, they always show me love. Show nothing but love. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. But I appreciate it, just to come back and the first game be here and get a win. I couldn’t ask for more.”

Such an attitude might seem surprising based on his previous conflicts with former Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving, his casual attitude during film sessions and his penchant for seemingly putting up as many shots as possible. That approach, coupled with some other bad habits, immediately caused friction with former Cavaliers forward LeBron James, who had returned to Cleveland in 2014.

Within a few months after that return, Waiters was traded to Oklahoma City.

Despite how things turned out between Waiters and James, Joe Vardon of The Athletic notes that the Heat guard is appreciative of their brief time together.

“He cherishes the few months he got to spend with LeBron, too, appreciating him for trying to be a mentor to Waiters before the trade,” Vardon wrote.

Waiters was off the court for more than a year after undergoing season-ending surgery last January. The original expectation was that he’d be ready to resume playing in training camp, but that timetable was pushed back because of complications with his rehabilitation.

The Heat and Waiters will return to Quicken Loans Arena for a game on Jan. 25, with the veteran hoping that he’ll be seeing more action than the 11 minutes he played on Wednesday night.

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Brad Sullivan is a lead writer for Cavaliers Nation. He has spent much of life in the Cleveland, Ohio area, and has remained a Cavalier fan from their 1970 beginnings through the return of LeBron James. While that fandom was sorely tested during the Reign of Error known simply by one word, Stepien, that overall historical perspective will be part of his writing for Cavaliers Nation in the months ahead.