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BOSTON -- LeBron James threw his wristbands and headband into the Boston crowd, and spread his Greek-god arms to reach the suddenly adoring fans on both sides of him. He ripped his Cavaliers jersey over his head, walked into the losing locker room, and flipped it to an attendant for what looked and sounded like the very last time.
"Me and my team have a game plan that we're going to execute," James would say.
Me and my team. No, James wasn't talking about the team that had just helped him lose a second-round playoff series to the Celtics.
He was talking about the team that will help him navigate the most frantic free-agent courtship in the history of American sports, and quite possibly place him in the Knicks' starting five next fall.
"Me and my team will approach it the right way," LeBron said.
"Me and my team [are] going to figure out what's the best possibility for me."
The team? Leon Rose, LeBron's agent, and William Wesley, a mysterious mover and shaker who is among the game's most influential men.
They will be scheduling a game in Madison Square Garden for the first week of July, when Donnie Walsh's Knicks take their best shot at convincing James there's no place like New York, New York, to win a championship and rule the world.
"I'm not talking about July," Rose said after the Celtics dispatched his client into the black Boston night. "I'm just here to support LeBron."
James needed all the support he could get. He delivered what has to be the quietest triple-double on record, with his 27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists not feeling as significant as his nine turnovers felt in this crushing 94-85 Game 6 defeat.
LeBron was hardly the comatose figure he was in Game 5, sinking back-to-back 3s early in the fourth quarter, cutting a double-digit deficit to 78-74 and forcing Doc Rivers to call a timeout. A feeling of unease swept over the TD Garden, at least until James bounced a perfect pass to Anderson Varejao, who blew the layup that would have put the Celtics on red alert.
Cleveland came undone, but that blown opportunity captured the essence of why James could and should leave for New York, Chicago, wherever. He has no Scottie Pippen in place; no Rajon Rondo, even. Just a bunch of Varejaos and Anthony Parkers and Delonte Wests.
How did these guys ever win 61 games?
In his heart of hearts, LeBron must know he can't seize a title with this hodgepodge crew, and he knows Cleveland doesn't have the cap space to land the second max player the Knicks will claim (Chris Bosh?) the minute James signs on the dotted line.
|LeBron James has a lot to think about in the next few weeks.|
"A friend of mine told me today, after the game," LeBron said, "that I guess you have to go through a lot of nightmares before you finally accomplish your dream. That's what's going on individually for myself right now."
No Cleveland fan liked the sound of this. James was talking about nightmares, his free-agent support staff, his possibilities and his burning desire to do the grand postseason things he couldn't do with the Cavs.
"First of all, I want to win," he said. "It's all about winning for me, and I think the Cavs [are] committed to do that, but at the same time I'll give myself options to this point."
The Boston crowd reduced those options to one. Every time James made it to the foul line, the fans mocked him with a chant of "New York Knicks." During one timeout, the Garden video board showed a fan wearing a Knicks jersey with LeBron's future number, 6, on the front, and his last name stitched to the back, drawing another mock cheer.
It was the longest day and night of James' NBA life. In the pregame locker room, LeBron sat on the trainer's table getting his ankles taped, rocking to the beat on his outsized headphones and singing the profane lyrics for all to hear.
He had just fielded some questions at his locker, denying an Internet suggestion he had torn ligaments in his sore elbow and swearing that his Game 5 no-show wouldn't haunt him from here to eternity.
"At the end of the day, I had a bad game," James said, "and it just so happened it came in one of the biggest games of the season. I forgot about it and move on to the next one."
The next one. LeBron James never had a next one quite like this one.
LeBron was on LeBrink, and he wasn't strong enough physically or mentally to save the season. When it was over, James showed he'd learned at least one best-of-seven lesson over the past 12 months.
Ripped for refusing to shake hands with the Eastern Conference champions in Orlando last year, James hugged and congratulated every Celtics player and coach he could find.
"You're the greatest player in the game," Rivers whispered in LeBron's ear.
Alone in a Garden hallway a little later, Rivers, the former Knick, was asked how he felt LeBron might fare in New York.
"I literally can't talk about it," Rivers said, "but it's going to be an interesting July 1. For me, New York was the best, the best. Boston and New York are two sports-crazed cities, and you can't do any better; you really can't."
Across the way, LeBron was sitting in a chair at his locker, soaking his feet in a tub of ice. He eventually showered, threw on a black-and-white sweatsuit and headed for a postgame podium to praise the Celtics, acknowledge that his elbow "limited me some" and declare he's "going to approach this summer with the right mindset."
The mindset of a great entertainer who looked and sounded like he's on his way to Broadway.Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter. More from ESPNNewYork.com »