Sports

Cynics should criticize LeBron James for things he can control

NBASportsPro BasketballLeBron JamesMiami HeatBasketballErik Spoelstra
LeBron James' Game 1 exit draws unwarranted criticism
Critics lay into Miami Heat's LeBron James after he leaves Game 1 because of cramps
LeBron James plans to play in Game 2 of NBA Finals

LeBron James took a seat on the bench, and cynics everywhere immediately stood up.

How could the game's best player let leg cramps stop him in the closing minutes of an NBA Finals game, the 140-character critics wanted to know. Wasn't he aware Michael Jordan once played with the flu and Isiah Thomas valiantly dragged his sore ankle across the Forum court?

So what if the air conditioning inside the AT&T Center was busted, the temperatures were nearly unbearable and his body wasn't cooperating. Is James not a gamer like the all-time greats? Shake it off and get out there!

Tim Duncan shook his head at the suggestion.

"There is no shaking it off," the San Antonio forward said Friday, a day after James' absence over the final 3 minutes 59 seconds helped the Spurs emerge with a 110-95 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 1. "Your body is shutting down and you're unable to move."

You would think a pair of NBA titles and four most-valuable-player awards would insulate James from the chill of needlessly critical chatter, but here we go again.

New queries about James' resolve sprouted from the usual social media twits as well as sports drink giant Gatorade, which unleashed a series of derisive tweets aimed at the Heat superstar in the name of brand protection.

"The person cramping wasn't our client," read one tweet from Gatorade's authorized account. "Our athletes can take the heat."

James endorses rival sports drink Powerade, whose market share hopefully just got a major boost.

"We were waiting on the sidelines," read another tweet from Gatorade, which partners with the Heat's Dwyane Wade and later apologized to James, "but he prefers to drink something else."

James was mostly taking in intravenous fluids after the game, needing 2 1/2 bags to help him rehydrate. He managed to keep his sense of humor after a sleepless night interrupted by repeated trips to the bathroom, deadpanning that he would "probably be out on Sunday" for Game 2 here, before breaking into a smile. He was kidding –- and will certainly play.

James' absence in the final minutes of Game 1 did not warrant a chuckle from the Heat, which was outscored, 16-3, once its best player left the court.

The sweltering conditions only exacerbated James' predisposition to cramps. He also suffered them during one game of the 2012 Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder but had done everything he could to avoid a repeat.

"I've been tested and all the results came back positive," James said, adding that doctors told him to "just keep doing what you been doing, continue to hydrate. It hasn't happened a lot in my career. It's just so happened it happened twice in the NBA Finals and we all remember that."

James said he first noticed the arena was balmy during warmups, when he sat on the scorer's table for about 10 minutes to cool down. He took seven anti-cramping pills during the game and drank so many fluids, he said, "your stomach feels like it just can't take anymore." He also changed jerseys at halftime so that he would feel more refreshed.

Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra closely monitored James' playing time, giving him an unusually lengthy three-minute break in the third quarter and another breather of nearly three minutes midway through the fourth quarter.

Only 24 seconds after he reentered the game, James drove for a layup that pulled Miami to within two points. The Heat was very much in the game, but James was finished.

"My body just shut down," he said. "Basically my body said, 'OK, enough jumping for you for the night.'"

James tried to be like Mike about a minute after he departed the game, rising from his seat on the bench in an effort to check back in.

"I told him, 'Not a chance,'" Spoelstra said. "'Sit down and we'll take care of this.'"

The first fix was easy. The company that runs the AT&T Center issued a statement saying the electrical failure that caused the air conditioning to malfunction had been repaired and would be fully operational for Game 2.

James' sore legs will also presumably feel better after 48 hours of inactivity.

Now if only there was a quick remedy for those who want to bring James down because of "Crampgate."

"I really don't care what people say about me," James said. "I don't care about that sports group, the drink group that — I'm not even going to say their name. I'm not going to give them a light in the Finals. This is about the Spurs and the Heat, and it's not about everybody else."

Here's hoping that as James rises Sunday, the cynics park it, their doubts silenced until James falls short in a category he can actually control.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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NBASportsPro BasketballLeBron JamesMiami HeatBasketballErik Spoelstra
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