The final score for Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals read “San Antonio Spurs 110, Miami Irony 95.” The Heat, the two-time defending champions, had been overcome by the heat. Whether or not you believe in global warming, it was quite evident at the AT&T Center in San Antonio last night, an edifice that either neglected to pay its electric bill or suffered an untimely collapse of its HVAC system, and the effect was that it felled the planet’s greatest basketball talent.
Until LeBron James was forced to depart Game 1 with severe leg cramps, Miami was in position to wrest the first game of this series from their hosts. The Heat led 86-79 after Chris Bosh completed a four-point play with just over nine minutes remaining and were actually out-Spur’ing Gregg Popovich’s team with selfless, patient and surgical passing in the offensive half-court and active limbs, creating turnovers, on defense.
You could imagine Heat coach Erik Spoelstra echoing that scene from the 1970 film Patton, in which General George S. Patton surveys the coming desert skirmish and bellows to his adversary, “Rommel, you magnificent bastard. I read your book!”
The Heat led by seven and had the Spurs on the ropes-- and then James, the four-time league Most Valuable Player, began motioning to his bench that he needed a blow. The six-foot-eight specimen of super-humanity was in the early stages of severe leg cramps in his leg muscles. He made his way to the bench after a timeout was called and, as one tweet put it, “looked like Fred Sanford” doing so.
James sat out a few minutes, looking as if he were missing Christmas morning, then returned briefly and made a layup to bring the Heat within two points, 94-92. But he was unable to even walk back up the floor on defense, and his Heat teammates had to literally tote him back to the bench as if they were engaged in some tribal challenge on “Survivor: Riverwalk.”
With King James observing the final four minutes from the Jack Nicholson seats, Miami was outscored 16-3. Game, sweat and match, Spurs.
And that’s when the inanity began. As ESPN anchor and radio host Scott Van Pelt put it, “The dumb is strong tonight & it’s everywhere.”
Within minutes, scores of people who don’t know the difference between the Krebs Cycle and Soul Cycle were offering their “takes” on James’ fitness and the nature of cramps. Some wondered why James was the only player on the court who suffered the cramps and whether this directly correlated to his being the least fit athlete on the court (have you seen Boris Diaw’s ass? I think the answer to that is, “No.”).
Gatorade, for example, on its official Twitter feed, absolved itself from blame: “The person cramping wasn’t our client. Our athletes can take the heat.” Small “h” there, since none of Gatorade’s athletes can take the Heat, or else Miami would not be two-time defending champions.
Others wondered why James could not just tough it out, as if cramps are mind-over-matter conditions. No more than drowning is. Cramps are not pain that you can overcome by biting your lip; they’re muscular spasms that occur for a very good physiological reason: to prevent your muscles from killing themselves (I’m not a real doctor, but I play one on the Internet).
Fortunately for the NBA and for us --and unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists-- the failure of the AT&T’s air-conditioning system occurred in Game 1 and not in Game 7. Losing on the road in Game 1 of the NBA Finals is no shock, nor, like leg cramps, is it fatal (although it may feel that way at moments).
The Heat will return on Sunday, adequately hydrated and hopefully to an arena that has mastery over the elements. By Sunday, Game 2, the acidity will have dissipated from LeBron’s muscles and, hopefully, from the pundit’s jabs.