It was a leg cramp that started a Twitter frenzy.
Gatorade saw an opening to poke fun at the basketball player, who also pulls double duty as spokesman for rival Powerade.
“The person cramping wasn’t our client,” Gatorade tweeted. “Our athletes can take the heat.”
Another tweet: “Better go stock up on Lime Cucumber before Game 2. Can’t cramp up.”
But hours after the game, basketball fans and social media wits continued to chatter about the Gatorade tweets. Some were laughing, while others criticized the beverage company for making light of James, who needed intravenous fluids after his early exit.
The kerfuffle got even more tangled on Friday when Kobe Bryant jumped onto social media to shill Body Armor, the sports drink brand that he endorses.
“Pro and college players should be allowed to CHOOSE what sports drink hydrates them the best and not be FORCED to drink LEAGUE SPONSORS,” the Los Angeles Lakers player wrote on Instagram. “2 much on the line for cramping.”
Although the hallabaloo turned off some sports fans, marketing experts say that Gatorade was smart to seize on the opportunity to create buzz.
“You got the rivalry between the two brands, and LeBron James is an extremely high-profile endorsement going in the other direction,” said George Belch, a marketing professor at San Diego State University. “From the perspective of Gatorade, defending the brand makes sense.”
Belch pointed out that many fans mistakenly believed that James was a spokesman for Gatorade rather than Powerade.
“People were calling out Gatorade, and they pointed out the misperception,” he said. "I would probably do the same thing."
Gatorade, however, chose to err on the side of caution. The company issued an apology on Friday.
“We got caught up in the heat of the battle,” Gatorade said.