CLEVELAND – The King sat alone … well, as alone as the best basketball player in the world could be while surrounded by people. Writers scrambled to dodge cords and cameras and microphones, bouncing from the whiteboard to lockers in hopes of finding a glimmer of insight into the King’s thoughts and drives. The King was aware — as he always is — of everything going on around him, but headphones created a barrier as he went about his postgame routine.
Bystanders got caught almost whispering, either out of respect or to match the funeral-like nature of a team that saw its season reach its unceremonious conclusion. Faced with trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube that had seen all its colors swapped and mangled, they could not. Some players dressed in silence and were left alone, others were grabbed for brief moments, and the cameras moved from target to target until the frenzy dissipated into the night.
Breaking through the somberness of the room like a wrecking ball to the side of an abandoned building, the King’s boys and friends bounded into the locker room, bursting with energy and chattering as preteens do. One tripped over a pair of slides that had been left on the carpet, another narrowly avoided toppling over an ice bucket. They surrounded the King. There was no sadness, no agenda, no need for answers. It was an unguarded moment, and as quickly as it happened, it was over.
The King, headphones still on, shuffled into the showers, preparing for a press conference that would turn whispers into roars. For the second time in his career, a potential decision that could force the Cleveland Cavaliers to start back at square one looms large on the horizon.
LeBron James had a habit over the course of the 2018 NBA Finals of wearing his hat so low that the lights shining over the podium would cast shadows. His unusually expressive face was shrouded, and whether by design or a byproduct of fashion, his words had an extra bit of mystery to them. That didn’t stop those interested in psychoanalyzing him to do so anyway, prodding and dipping in and out the same way James surveys a defense on the floor in search of weak points.
Following Game 4, James knew those questions were coming.
Those questions were there in 2010. They returned in 2014 and they’ve been there every year since in some form. It’d be foolish to think one of the most cerebral players of all time, one who can rattle off a series of plays as if he was doing Director’s Commentary on them, wouldn’t prepare for these. And yet, for someone who seemingly has had a plan of some sort since he entered the league (or, at the very least, since that first Decision in which he teamed with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to take control of his own fate), anyone hoping for a tell wouldn’t get one. Not yet, anyway.