It was apropos in a way.
Following last night’s Cramp Game, I found myself on a cramped shuttle bus headed to the Spurs practice facility. The talk, of course, was about the “unbelievably hot” temperature last night at the AT&T Center, a certain hydration drink’s comments on Twitter, and of course, LeBron James’ leg cramps.
After the game, LBJ spoke only to a pool reporter, his comments cleanly issued on printouts. In the transcript, Bron said he’d never played in such conditions. The muscles in his left leg spasmed “10 out of 10.” He was happy for the extra day off before Game 2 so that he could recover.
For a player with a history of cramps dating back to his high school days, LeBron knew that dehydration would be a major problem about halfway through the first quarter. He had to leave the game several times due to the 90-plus degree temperature. Perhaps if it was any other game, LeBron might have sat out the second half. Or if he played, he’d pace himself better.
But this is the NBA Finals. And asking LeBron to play any less than full bore wasn’t an option. As Bron trumpeted to his teammates prior to tipoff, every Finals game should be played like a Game 7.
LeBron’s preparation against cramps is meticulous to say the least. He doses up on fluids and electrolytes before every game. From medical testing, he has learned exactly what he requires during normal game circumstances to keep him functioning at 100 percent.
“I always hydrate. Every time out, I’m hydrating because I know I sweat a lot,” LeBron said. “I noticed it in warmups. I didn’t know where it came from, but I felt it get a little warm. I actually sat on the scorer’s table and stopped warming up so I could cool down a little bit. I really started to feel it in the second quarter.”
At halftime, Bron took seven cramp pills. He changed his entire uniform—something he’d never had to do before. He used ice packs at timeouts. But none of that would prevent the cramps that completely seized up his left leg after he made a driving layup with 4:09 remaining. He had to be carried off the court and was out of the game for good.
“Between jumping and running and cutting and sweating and a little bit of everything—exhaustion—the body just hit the shut down,” James said.
To add to the anguish, he had to helplessly watch as the Spurs completed their 31-9 run. The anger and frustration got to the point where James stood up and reenter into the game, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra put an end to the idea.
“When he stood up with three and change to go, I just looked at him and told him, Not a chance,” Spoelstra said. “It was killing him being on the sideline, but you also have your health to look after.”
His rehydration process consisted of getting two and a half IV bags overnight and drinking water until he couldn’t drink anymore. He got up to use the bathroom “about six or seven times,” and he didn’t sleep a wink.
The disappointment was clear on his face at Friday’s practice, but LeBron wasn’t blaming himself for the loss. He didn’t blame the extreme temperature, either. He didn’t care what “that drink group” had to say. His focus was on Game 2, and he said he “should be 100 percent by Sunday.”
As well as San Antonio played in the fourth quarter of Game 1—shooting 14-16 for the period—there’s still a sense that the Spurs were fortunate to come up with the W. They did most of the damage when LeBron James was not on the court and committed 23 turnovers on the night.
“I still feel lucky,” Tony Parker said. “When we have 20-plus turnovers, we lose those games.”
The Spurs issued a statement today that the electrical failure that caused the AC outage has been repaired, and that Game 2 will go on as scheduled.
With that news, it’s no longer cramps that grip LeBron. Just anticipation.