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'Tempered excitement' on MSG-homefront as pursuit of LeBron kicks off

FILE - LeBron James at Madison Square Garden.

FILE - LeBron James at Madison Square Garden. (November 6, 2009) Photo Credit: Getty Images

Drew Schustek and his red and white striped bullhorn posted up halfway between 33rd and 34th street on Seventh avenue at 9 a.m. Thursday. The long awaited July 1, 2010 Knick fan-holiday – and the subsequent commotion leading into the main entrance to Madison Square Garden -- was about to ensue. Or so he thought.

Roughly seven hours before LeBron James departed his meeting with Knick brass 395 miles away in James’ hometown of Akron, Ohio, Schustek was prepping for the first day in a week-long holiday season. Schustek and Knick fans had been awaiting the week – which ends July 8, the first day James and other Free Agents can sign Free Agent contracts -- for several years.

For Schustek, July 1, 2010 has been the day that could provide something comparable for the struggling Knick franchise Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg and "Strasmas" brought Washington D.C. baseball fans less than a month ago. A tangible taste of hope. And the best case scenario: "LeBron-Mas".

But on Thursday the three block-radius surrounding the Garden was just well, Midtown.

No "LeBron-Mas" here.

"(I’ve) seen people with a couple of shirts, ‘N.Y for LeBron’," Schustek said. "I was expecting a little bit of a better reaction from New York."

On Thursday -- the first day the Knicks and other NBA franchises could meet officially with James and other free agents in what is regarded as by far the best free agent class in NBA history – the area surrounding Madison Square Garden embodied a certain Midtown-persona. It was a vibe of what patrons inside the Fat Annie’s Truck Stop Restaurant and Bar on 33rd avenue a half a block from the Garden, described as a "nice little tension going on, where it is nervous. But it is exciting".

It was a feeling at home that summed up where the Knicks’ talks are with James and other Free Agents. With chances apparently dwindling for the Knicks and James coming to terms, Midtown had gone back into its shell a little too premateurly for the likes of Schustek. Albeit, its hectic shell. They know the talk of the town. But not much more remains than talk. And hope, of course. Just ask the bars.

"People have been talking about it (Lebron going to New York)," bartender Gerard Leary of Stout on West 33rd said of Thursday's business inside the bar. "But it hasn’t been as lively as, say, the World Cup games."

At 5:30, on the homefront mere steps from Two Pennsylvania Plaza, Schustek was a straggler. The native of Long Beach was a lonesoul. He and the bullhorn were the only Knick stalwarts amidst the sea that was busy Midwork-week New York.

The pent-up gatherings had become talk. And the talk had streamed back into the Woodworks of the neighborhood bars.

Midtown was not dead though, just like the Knicks talks moving forward with James. A couped up electricity was still in the surrounding bars like Fat Annies and Stout, Fat Annies’ neighbor – which greeted customers with a chalk sign on the sidewalk which read: "Come on, LeBron: Stout."

LeBron was the hot topic, but nothing worthy of a holiday.

So said the employees at the Footaction USA shoe store on 34th street – the same Footaction where a three story tall poster of James in a Cavaliers uniform entitled "The Chosen One" once resided several years ago. The tempered mentality was clear.

"It really doesn’t matter, the store manager said. "It’s already a done deal. We all know he is going to stay in Cleveland anyway."

New York Sports