CLEVELAND – LeBron James sat in his locker, covered by more ice than clothing and his right hand – which he injured while punching a whiteboard following the Cavaliers’ devastating Game 1 loss – wrapped. He hunched his towel-covered head into his left hand. He leaned back and slumped in his seat, the towel still hiding his face, and sat that way for several minutes.
LeBron looked beat.
By the Warriors, by the burden he carried leading an underwhelming supporting cast to the NBA Finals, by the weight of his second Cleveland tenure possibly ending.
Will he use his player option to leave the Cavs this summer?
“I have no idea at this point,” LeBron said after Golden State swept Cleveland in the NBA Finals. “The one thing that I’ve always done is considered, obviously, my family. Understanding especially where my boys are at this point in their age. They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. I’ve got a teenage boy, a pre-teen and a little girl that wasn’t around as well. So sitting down and considering everything, my family is a huge part of whatever I’ll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that. So, I don’t have an answer for you right now as far as that.”
A few days ago, LeBron spoke candidly about why he left the Cavaliers in 2010 – because the team wasn’t good enough. Tonight, he addressed why he returned in 2014.
“I came back because I felt like I had some unfinished business,” LeBron said.
Did leading Cleveland to its first championship in 2016 finish that business?
“That’s a trick question at the end of the day,” LeBron said, “and I’m not falling for that.
“It made me even more hungry to continue to try to win championships, and I still want to be in championship mode. I think I’ve shown this year why I will still continue to be in championship mode.”
The Cavaliers showed how they are not. They traded Kyrie Irving against LeBron’s wishes and whittled down their return for the star point guard to spare parts and the No. 8 pick – a valuable asset, but one that didn’t help the 2018 Cavs compete in these playoffs.
At times, LeBron’s weak supporting cast appeared to drive him mad. He vented at his teammates during a Game 4 timeout, and he melted down on the bench before Game 1’s overtime as he learned details of J.R. Smith‘s blunder. And, as we discovered, LeBron carried his frustration into the post-Game 1 locker room and tried to channel it through a whiteboard.
Gesturing while answering a question tonight, LeBron raised his right hand above the table and revealed a cast. The sound of cameras flickering overpowered the room.
“You guys like this brace, huh?” LeBron said, cracking a smile. “You guys like this cast, huh? You want me to sit it right here for you?
“Pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand.”
It hurts now, but LeBron has been through too much – 15 seasons, eight straight NBA Finals appearances and now six Finals losses (behind only Jerry West’s eight and Elgin Baylor’s seven all-time) – to totally sulk through this latest challenge.
LeBron knows precisely what that challenge is. It was down the hall covering itself in champagne while LeBron sat silently at his locker and contemplated.
Finally, LeBron emerged from the locker room and turned right down the hall. Unaware LeBron was headed toward the interview room rather than leaving, a security guard called from behind that LeBron and his group should go another way to avoid crowds. LeBron stopped to sort out the confusion. Turns out, he was going the best way to the interview room, and he kept going.
After his press conference, LeBron walked out of the interview room and made a pointed turn toward Bill Russell. LeBron leaned down to embrace the legend in his wheelchair.
Then, LeBron headed straight for the exit.