NBA Finals: No consolation to be had for LeBron

CLEVELAND -- The utter silence in the Quicken Loans Arena corridor as LeBron James made his way from the locker room to a postgame news conference setting he has become all too familiar with -- sorting through the wreckage after a failed championship attempt -- misrepresented all that the building, his building, had been about during the past eight months.

The sold-out crowd had long since shuffled out after experiencing what it was like to believe again in a city so used to disappointment from its professional sports teams, and the fans took their "All in!" and "MVP!" chants with them.

And the Golden State Warriors' impromptu celebration, split in two parts between the visitors locker room and the Cleveland Cavaliers' film storage room, temporarily remodeled for players and coaches to pose for portraits with the Larry O'Brien trophy, was simultaneously a few hundred feet both behind and in front of James.

So, the man who put up 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, 8.8 assists per game and garnered four of the 11 votes for MVP of the series despite his team losing the final three games by an average of 14 points, found himself in a quiet stretch of hallway.

It's a stillness he seeks out, as we've learned from James' self-imposed social media shutdown during the playoffs and even from his Kia commercial, which depicts him escaping from his hectic household to take a nap the only place nobody will go look to find him -- in the backseat of a car.

When James logs back on to Twitter or scrolls through Instagram, the normal noise he has received in the past for coming up short in the NBA Finals will be mostly muted. What can the critics say after he carried a team full of backups and role players to two wins away from beating a team with one of the 10 best records in league history?

But though James' legacy was arguably enhanced by this playoff run, rather than hurt by it, there is no satisfaction in store for him.

The silence provides no solace.

After everything he has been through this season, every new bond he forged, every ice bath he plunged into, every training session he devoted time to, every lesson he imparted, every opposing defense he dissected, every game- and series-saving shot he made, to come so close without anything to show for it is just plain torture, regardless of whether he captured critical acclaim in the process.

Is it all worth it to him?

"Well, of course you question it, especially when you get to this point," James said at the postgame podium, after he made that silent walk down the hallway with a slight limp from the sore right knee he dragged up and down the floor for 89 games between the regular season and the playoffs.

"I always look at it, would I rather not make the playoffs or lose in the Finals? I don't know. I don't know. I've missed the playoffs twice. I lost in the Finals four times. I'm almost starting to be like I'd rather not even make the playoffs than to lose in the Finals. It would hurt a lot easier if I just didn't make the playoffs and I didn't have a shot at it."

When your day-to-day existence is defined by the pursuit of a championship, coming this close and failing only assures that your future days will be bogged down until the goal is achieved. Phil Jackson already had nine championships under his belt in 2009 when he told me he thought more about his Finals losses in 2004 and 2008 than he did about the wins.

When your day-to-day existence is defined by the pursuit of a championship, you stay late after practice to get shots up with a teammate because you know he will need the rhythm and confidence to perform on the court, even if it means losing track of the time and messing up your home life.

"Whoo, I'm going to get cussed out," James said when he realized he'd be late to a family get-together after one such shooting session with J.R. Smith in early May.

When you define your day-to-day existence by the pursuit of a championship, you do things like put your trust in trainer Mike Mancias, and if that means going through a full stretching regimen before a preseason game in Cincinnati, you do it. If that means putting on a pair of rubber-band-tight compression socks that go up to your knees for the flight home after a road game, you do it. If that means knowing your team is struggling early in the season but also understanding that if you don't take care of your back and knee by taking time off, you may never be right, you do that, too.

When you define your day-to-day existence by the pursuit of a championship, then it all has to be worth it, right? Even though James has now lost in the NBA Finals two years straight, and for the fourth time in six appearances, the allure must remain.

"But then I lock back in, and I start thinking about how fun it is to compete during the playoffs and the first round, the second round and Eastern Conference finals," James continued at the podium. "If I'm lucky enough to get here again, it will be fun to do it.

"[I] put my body through a lot, you know, but it's the price for your body feeling this way for winning. Did I win? I didn't win a championship, but I've done a lot of good things in this first year back and hopefully I can continue it."

Hope is all he has this summer. A sixth straight NBA Finals appearance? A third championship? Another full season out of his 30-year-old body, one that has already played more than 43,000 minutes in its NBA career? And not only that, but full seasons out of his teammates who went down, one by one, with injuries this season?

There will be plenty to fill LeBron James' head in the silence the end brings.

And no, he won't be killed for how he performed in these Finals, but that doesn't mean thinking about the result doesn't kill him any less.