Leave LeBron James alone
Miami Heat forward LeBron James talks to the media on Friday. (USA TODAY SPORTS)
As soon as LeBron James found himself unable to return down the stretch of Miami’s NBA Finals-opening loss to San Antonio on Thursday night, you knew the avalanche of criticism was coming.
As expected, it all came pouring down, with the usual idiots seizing on any opportunity to attack James in what Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra coined, “Cramp-Gate.” These people live for it, either to boost ratings and earn more money, or just to spout off because they do not like James, who granted, made a huge mistake with his “Decision” ESPN special years ago.
Though it doesn’t seem like it to look at him, James is a human being. He can make a mistake like all of us can (The Decision being the most egregious) and he certainly can succumb to debilitating cramps, as he has now done twice in the past three Finals (he also had cramping issues against the Oklahoma City Thunder). For this he gets damned? When so many other athletes get into so much trouble outside of the sporting arena, something James has steered well clear of? When so many other superstars have failed to speak their mind, possibly bringing about change on important societal issues, something James has refused to shy away from?
James did not stay on the sidelines because he is “soft” or lesser than other greats that have come before him. He did it because he is human, a human that does super-human things on most nights, but could not on this sweltering evening at the AT&T Center (though he did still manage a game-best 25 points before leaving).
Spoelstra said James took seven anti-cramping pills and tried to check himself back into the game, even though his body was shutting down. Though nobody else had severe cramping, despite the inferno-like conditions, if anybody had, they, like James, would have been unable to play through them.
“Let’s separate the past to last night,” Spoelstra said Friday, cutting any criticism off at the pass. “Last night was such an extreme situation and you have to be able to differentiate the two ... We have had minimal issues with it, and he’s been able to handle it much better than before.
“Look, he was burning through his fluids and calories at an extraordinary rate ... You know, the biggest issue that I think is lost out there is how competitive LeBron James is when you get to this level. Most athletes pace themselves, it’s not a coincidence and a secret and why we have had the success we have had with the best player in the world, when he pushes his body past the point of regular limits for a competitive advantage.”
Yet, pushing himself to the limit in those conditions was too much for James and has led to this backlash, which James and the other players know is completely unwarranted.
Maybe once James would have cared. But with two titles, two gold medals, four MVPs and — most important to him — a wife and a family that have helped him to mature, you believe James when he says he could “care less.”
Oh, he is furious that his body let him down, that he had to leave the opener and his team’s hopes left with him, but he is over any of the flack he takes.
“What everybody has to say, you guys should know me by now; I don’t care, I really don’t,” a relaxed, confident, though “sore” James said at the podium Friday.
“This is about the Spurs and the Heat, and it’s not about everybody else, man, I don’t care ... I’ll be all right. I’ll be in uniform on Sunday. Don’t worry, you guys can talk about me as much as you want. I’ll be there on Sunday as well. I’m not hiding.”
Teammate Chris Bosh said the 32C temperature inside the arena made Game 1 the toughest contest he has ever been through. And he applauded James for dealing with all of the outside noise afterward.
“If he has a cramp, if he wipes his nose, if he says anything it’s going to be scrutinized, it’s going to be heavily monitored under a big microscope,” Bosh said.
“It just comes with the territory.”
Members of the Spurs were complimentary toward James.
“He’s an unbelievable performer. What may be more amazing to me is the way he’s conducted himself over the years with all the scrutiny,” normally cantankerous Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “None of us really understand what that is. He’s done it pretty damn well.”
Danny Green, a hero in Game 1 and a one-time teammate of James in Cleveland, said many outsiders just do not get it, just look to take any shot they can, no matter how ill-informed.
“He has a lot of accomplishments, a lot of accolades, he’s going to be compared to the Michael Jordans, the Kobe Bryants, and all the guys in the past,” Green said. “I’m sure everyone knows that plays this game, if you’re cramped up it hurts. It’s not easy to play with, so, we players understand, but fans, everybody else on the outside, they’re going to give him a little ... they’re going to talk about him in a bad way.”
The hope for Green, his Spurs teammates and James’ legion of haters, is that James does not use all of this as scalding hot fuel, the way Jordan and Bryant famously did with any perceived slights, real or imagined.
“I’m sure he’ll use it as motivation,” Green said somewhat warily.
“With a chip on his shoulder trying to prove a point. Hopefully we can contain him.”
NOT A GOOD WIN
SAN ANTONIO — The Spurs took the opener, yet, many of them seemed to feel worse about what happened than the losing Heat players.
“It wasn’t a good game for us,” said Spurs forward Boris Diaw.
Danny Green, who played three brutal quarters before coming to life late to sink the Heat, said the Spurs were fortunate to prevail.
“Definitely. 22 turnovers against a team like that and win the game is very rare, it doesn’t happen. I think the approach we should take is take that game as a loss.”
Starting centre Tiago Splitter concurred.
“We were lucky that the shots went in,” Splitter said. “We still have a bad feeling for the turnovers, we should have done better than we did.”
While Miami’s Chris Bosh was bizarrely asked if it felt like a loss (“Yeah, when you’re 0-1, it feels like a real loss, that’s for sure,” Bosh said), he added, “You learn to play a series, a series is not just one game. You learn to control your emotions, see what you did wrong. If you won or lose, just always move to the next one.”
“Our spirits are high after Game 1,” Heat point guard Mario Chalmers added.