Apparently every athlete is no longer human.
On Thursday, LeBron James and the Miami Heat had to test how much heat they could stand. No, not the heat of Miami or the red-hot San Antonio Spurs, the Heat literally had to deal with the sweltering heat of an arena with a broken air conditioning system.
In the heat of battle (no pun intended), James started to falter. He kept motioning to the sidelines about something wrong. He didn’t seem right, but he kept playing. He played and played and played, until he could no longer. With his entire body cramping, Eric Spoelstra made a tactical decision. Like the general of an army, Spoelstra called off the reinforcements, as if to say to the Spurs, ‘you may have won the battle, but we will win the war.’ He pulled James out of the game so he could be attended to by the medical staff.
James left the game because of cramps; something many seem to think is laughable. Michael Jordan played a game with the flu. Kobe Bryant made a free throw with a torn Achilles tendon. Willis Reed played in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals with a torn muscle in his thigh and made two shots. Greg Jennings scored a touchdown with a broken freakin’ leg!
Okay, the last one is fictional because it was a video game, but you get the point. If you compare what happened to James on Thursday night to Jordan, Bryant, and Reed, you think it’s laughable. You get cramps and you leave the game? What a wuss.
Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Cramps occur because of how much you exert and how much hydration you lack. Cramps aren’t like injuries that happen because of a bad fall or because of improper technique. Cramps happen because the body, not the mind, can’t function. It is even worse if the body is dehydrating extremely.
James didn’t prepare to play in the sweat box of the AT&T Center. The heat was the king’s downfall, but like a great king, he fought valiantly and when it came to surrender, he surrendered when he could continue no longer.
And you know what that shows? Toughness.
If James, arguably the greatest basketball player in the world, is cramping on his entire left side to the point where he can’t support the pain no longer, it means he played hard. I am very critical of the Miami Heat, but I am not critical of James’ work ethic.
You don’t get drafted as the number one pick straight out of high school without hard work. You don’t get out of the streets of a low socioeconomic neighborhood without hard work. You don’t get 4 MVP titles, 2 NBA titles, and the title of the best in the world without hard work.
But apparently, you can get called a wuss, soft, and become the laughingstock of the internet because of hard work. James left everything and more on the court on Thursday night in his quest for a third NBA title for him and the Miami Heat. He started showing signs of slowing down in the third quarter, but pushed forward until the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. You can’t compare what James endured to missing a shot with the game on the line. You also can’t compare James’ situation with that of other players.
Everyone is different. Everyone’s body is different.
But this isn’t just about James. This is about how we view athletes. These men and women who play sports aren’t some fictional characters you can laugh at in the comfort of your own home and judge without haste on social media. They are people just like you. It’s easy to laugh and make fun of someone when you don’t do it yourself. Place yourself in the situation James was in and let’s see how you can handle it.
Jordan once left a game with cramps back in 1997. It was in an NBA Finals game. It was also the game before the “Flu Game.”
I hope James drops 100 points in Game 2 to shut up all this nonsense. Not 20, not 30, not 40, not 50, not 60.
If not 100 points, at least make a strong enough statement to quiet all those who question his toughness and the toughness of other athletes.