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Bernstein: The Art Of Following Nothing

By Dan Bernstein- senior columnist

(CBS) Before this modern NBA free-agent phenomenon, the strangest kind of reporting involved owners' meetings.

We would congregate in some hotel near O'Hare airport, hurrying to stake out our precious positions at press room telephones, then spend hours waiting for the mere possibility of league news emerging from behind one of the conference room doors. Some veterans would cozy up to confidantes during breaks for bathrooms and meals, trying to extract a morsel of information on any back-channel political dealings for the small segment of their readers or viewers following such things back then, while most others would just try to be there when anything of substance was announced.

Some days we would go home with nothing, only to start the process again the next day, in all the same places. It was an exercise in expectation, as we gnawed bland sandwiches and felt time stretch and drip as if imagined by Salvador Dali.

That's the feeling now, many years later, as we experience this, The Indecision.

LeBron James is on a plane, or he's not. Carmelo Anthony was reportedly set to announce his return to the Knicks on Thursday – barring a "change of heart," of course, until Thursday became Friday. Chris Bosh won't bolt for the Rockets until he knows what James does, and Dwyane Wade will soon show us why he chose to cancel a contract set to pay a rapidly deteriorating player $42 million. And only then will all of the everything else happen.

Nobody has really known anything, not even the most connected reporters. Not the owners or general managers forced to give away franchise assets just to clear space for the slim chance of being chosen as a destination, the other players who may or may not have had an offhand conversation with one of the principal characters here or there, nor the shouting television personalities taking their staged positions for artificial debates.

We click the blue-shaded bar that says "View 37 new Tweets," and by the time we scroll through, sifting for anything of substance, we go back up and click "View 43 new Tweets." There is a photo of a moving van, a sighting at a restaurant, a link to somebody's wife's Instagram. Incredibly, potential landing spots are expressed in percentage chances, calculated out of thin air and whole cloth. There are some signings of deals and offer sheets as peripheral, interchangeable players interchange on the periphery.

Slavishly we click and scroll, on the laptop in the kitchen and the iPhone at the next red stoplight. Any incoming text tantalizes with possibility, perhaps a note from someone we trust with something new that does more than add to this collective insanity of projecting patterns upon randomness.

But no, it's just a reminder from home that we're out of coffee filters.

When the absence of story is becoming the story, we've really crossed into the absurd. The smallest items swell with portent as they are shared instantaneously before we realize they have no meaning, and we briefly appreciate the silliness.

We all hated how James ended this the last time around on camera, using a peanut gallery of children as human shields as he muttered his choice of workplace to Jim Gray, the perfectly awkward foil for such an uncomfortable affair: every last bit of it just not quite right in any sense.

But it did provide a clear marking point, at least, and in that way I almost miss it.

Follow Dan on Twitter @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.

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