Just when LeBron James had established himself as the best player on the planet, overcoming the ill-advised announcement of his move from Cleveland to Miami four years ago, now comes the cramps.
James will need to be spectacular the remainder of the NBA Finals, as critics across the country make him the butt of jokes about having to be sidelined with leg cramps much of the final minutes of San Antonio’s 110-95 victory to take a 1-0 series lead.
Many players and former players contend it would be virtually impossible for any player, even Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, to play with severe cramps. That has not stopped social media from exploding with fans criticizing James for being “weak” or, worse, “quitting” on his team.
James exited the game with 7:31 remaining in the fourth quarter because of the cramping, but returned with 3:59 left for one play, finishing a driving layup. He signaled to come out immediately after, limping to the bench before having to be carried off. Miami fell apart the rest of the game.
“It was an unusual circumstance,” said James, who had 25 points. “I never played in a building like that, it’s been a while, like a high school game or [youth basketball], and everybody is sitting on top and you feel good being in a building like that.”
James said he received intravenous fluids during the game and even changed his uniform at halftime to try to stay dry. But he couldn’t prevent the onset of cramping that eventually locked up his left leg, forcing him to hobble to the bench with teammates eventually carrying him off the floor.
“It’s frustration and anger, but at the same time, it’s something that you try to prevent, you try to control,” James said. “I mean, I got all the fluids I need to get, I do my normal routine I’ve done and it was inevitable for me tonight, throughout the conditions, you know, out there on the floor. I lost all the fluids that I was putting in in the last couple of days out there on the floor. It sucks not being out there for your team, especially at this point in the season.”
A power failure for the electrical systems that run the AT&T Center left the arena without air conditioning. With the temperature in the arena reaching as high as 90 degrees, all players were visibly exhausted, some even putting ice packs on their necks during timeouts. Fans, who conveniently were given noisemakers that doubled as handheld fans, tried to cool themselves for the duration of the game.
“It was an unusual environment,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re used to having the hotter arena at this time of year, but both teams had to deal with it. It’s unfortunate that it was that way. It was how we responded in those minutes after that point. I think it felt like a punch in the gut when you see your leader limping like that back to the bench, but at the same time, we still had an opportunity to make plays going down the stretch, and they made obviously the biggest plays in the last five minutes.”
Tim Duncan of the Spurs said: “I don’t think I’ve played in anything like this since I left the [Virgin] Islands. It was pretty bad out there.”
Hall of Fame guard Isiah Thomas, who played through many injuries, said to Yahoo! Sports: There is no athlete on the planet who could’ve played through those cramps. Michael Jordan absolutely couldn’t have played through those cramps. I absolutely couldn’t have played through those cramps. As an athlete, there’s nothing you could do.”