June 6, 2014 at 9:38 pm

Vincent Goodwill

Critics gang up on Heat's LeBron James for cramps episode

Miami Heat forward LeBron James is helped from the court by guard Mario Chalmers (15), guard Dwyane Wade, Erik Spoelstra, front, right, and Rashard Lewis, right rear, during the second half in Game 1 of the NBA basketball finals. (Eric Gay / Associated Press)

After Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the narrative surrounding the Spurs’ 1-0 lead is “LeBron James can’t handle the heat.”

James was affected by severe leg cramps in the fourth quarter of the Spurs’ 110-95 win, which was probably caused by the extreme heat in the AT&T Center being without air conditioning — leading James to become a national punch line among his numerous critics.

News: The Heat held a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter before James’ cramps took hold. After James’ driving layup with five minutes left, he stood on the baseline, motionless, until being helped off the floor.

Views: Who knows if the Heat would’ve held off the hot-shooting Spurs if James had been able to play, but the two-time champions certainly looked in control to that point, forcing the precise Spurs into turnover after turnover, putting themselves in prime position to steal the ever-important opening game on the road.

Without James, the Spurs seemingly didn’t miss, outscoring the discombobulated Heat, 16-3, afterward. Spurs forward Danny Green, who was guarded by James, scored all 13 of his points when James went out in the fourth quarter.

“For obvious reasons, I was angry, I was disappointed in myself,” James said Friday to media. “I did everything that I needed to do to prepare for this game, prepare for this moment and to feel like my body failed me ... I was angry in the fact that I couldn’t help my team get over the hump.”

News: After it was clear James was unable to play, he took plenty of criticism via social media, with some saying he needed Midol, and others evoking the ever-popular Michael Jordan comparison of playing with the flu in the 1997 NBA Finals.

Views: James’ legion of naysayers have been waiting in earnest to have something to grab onto for the past two years, and he’s given them nothing since the 2011 NBA Finals when the Heat lost to Dallas in six games.

There’s still a strong segment of fans who haven’t forgiven James for “The Decision,” which was nearly four years ago. James has done nothing but win since then, validating his decision to choose Miami over Cleveland. James hasn’t kowtowed for anyone’s “forgiveness,” nor should he.

If you’re picking on James and using his leg cramps — which he’s had over the course of his career, and being a supremely-muscled athlete, it’s bound to happen — then you’re merely nitpicking, with the veiled attempt at being a contrarian.

And there’s no way we can go inside any athlete’s body to tell them what’s hurting or to what extent something is ailing them — with all due respect to the YMCA warriors who claim they’re tougher than the best athletes the world has to offer.

Whatever.

As for the claim about Jordan, and to a lesser degree, Kobe Bryant, it appears those segment of fans who believe James is getting closer to being mentioned in the same sentence as those two historically are getting a bit territorial.

Isiah Thomas played with a severely sprained ankle in the 1988 NBA Finals, producing arguably the greatest performance the league has ever seen given the circumstances, and said he would’ve been sidelined with those leg cramps.

He also said, unequivocally on ESPN, Jordan wouldn’t be able to play through the ailment either — yet another sign of this microwave generation where anyone with a laptop can become a world-class expert on medical matters — just ask them.

News: The NBA said it will look into the conditions Game 1 was played in, where the temperature on the floor reached near 90 degrees when the air-conditioning malfunctioned.

Views: We’ve all heard stories about the old Boston Garden and even the Pontiac Silverdome in the 1988 NBA Finals with the Pistons.

The heat would be turned all the way up in the Garden to affect opposing teams in big games against the Celtics in the 1980s, a form of home-court advantage.

In those instances, the Pistons and Lakers knew what they were walking into when they played in Boston. There were no delusions about ideal conditions for playoff games back then, but times are different now.

Neither James, nor anyone on either side, could have prepared for such an adverse environment. No player played more than 35 minutes, which is almost unheard of for the Finals. James spent twice as long receiving IV’s after the game to replenish his fluids. Whether the training staff could’ve or should’ve done more for James can be debated and rehashed, but all players had to deal with the heat, so there’s no true inherent advantage—unless the clock operator was under the influence of Red Auerbach, I mean, Gregg Popovich.

vincent.goodwill@detroitnews.com
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