Spurs Beat the Heat, Reminiscent of the Night Boxing's Greatest Fighter Melted

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Spurs Beat the Heat, Reminiscent of the Night Boxing's Greatest Fighter Melted
USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs turn back the Heat (and the heat) in a sizzling opener to the 2014 NBA Finals

Tim Duncan led the Spurs in points and rebounds, while shooting 90 percent from the floor as San Antonio outlasted the Heat 110-95 in Game 1, despite an air conditioning malfunction in the AT&T Center that saw the temperature in the arena near triple digits. 

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Duncan became the first player since Wilt Chamberlain (1972) to record 20+ points, 10+ rebs and 90+ FG% in an NBA Finals game

In a rematch of the 2013 Finals, the NBA's foremost basketball juggernauts traded heavy leather through three quarters. But as the temperature rose, so did the wonderful irony in the arena. Chants of "Beat the Heat!" made more sense than ever, and they were not without humorous effect.  

Just two baskets separated the teams going into the final frame. However, after a Chris Bosh four-point play put the defending champions up 86-79 in the fourth, Miami seemed to be on its way to stealing home-court advantage and drawing first blood in the series.

But as the play on words ran rampant, so did the Spurs shooters.

The last nine-and-a-half minutes saw San Antonio blow open the game, mounting a prolific shooting display and ending the game on a 31-9 stretch. The two-time defending Western Conference Champions shot an astonishing 14-16 from the floor in the fourth quarter, including an unconscious six-for-six mark from long range, sparked by a slow-starting Danny Green who, in the face of a frustrating 0-5 start, hit his final four shots, made up of three three-pointers and a tremendous breakaway dunk over Miami's Rashard Lewis.

Sidelined for most of this masterful comeback was LeBron James, the unquestioned catalyst to Miami's spirit. Forced out of the game because of heat cramps, James was escorted to the bench with over three minutes to go and never returned.

How much this takes away from San Antonio's Game 1 victory is up to interpretation. But the odd circumstances involved do bring back memories of a hot night in June 1952 when the greatest fighter in the world, Sugar Ray Robinson, fell at the hands of the same forces that knocked James out of his contest.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Sixty-two years ago this month—June 25, to be exact—Ray Robinson—the peak of all pugilistic excellence—stepped into the ring at Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York to challenge the light heavyweight champion of the world and eventual Hall of Famer Joey Maxim.

Similiar to the Miami Heat, Robinson (who held a ridiculous record of 131-2-2 at the time) was in search of a third title. The Heat seek their third NBA championship in four years, while Robinson sought his third world title in four weight classes. 

Debuting as a lightweight and having already won championships at welterweight and middleweight, "Sugar" followed in the tracks of Bob Fitzsimmons and Henry Armstrong and jumped up to light heavyweight in hopes of becoming just the third man in boxing history to win undisputed world titles in three divisions.

But he would have more than just Maxim to worry about that night.

Even outweighed by over 15 pounds, Robinson was still a 7-5 favorite and did nothing but justify those odds for the majority of the fight. He was far quicker than his larger opponent. Maxim—not known as a big puncher—fought behind a splendid left jab, as he did his entire career. But he had no answer for the impeccable technique possessed by his swift challenger, widely considered to be the greatest boxer to ever lace up a pair of boxing gloves.

Maxim moved his feet the best he could and pumped out his jab readily. But Robinson slipped his opponent's offense with ease and piled up points with stinging combinations: left hook to the head, blistering one-twos, lefts and rights to the body. 

Through the first 13 rounds, the judges awarded Robinson no fewer than nine of them. This was a blowout.

But as in Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals, a third foe reared its head—a foe of a cosmic nature.

The temperature in Yankee Stadium that night reached as high as 103 degrees. The Syracuse Post Standard called the event a "soggy sweatbox." The unbelievable heat—the highest ever recoded for any professional fight, according to the Eugene Register-Guard—was so intense, in fact, that referee Ruby Goldstein had to be replaced at the end of Round 10 and treated for heat prostration. 

JL/Associated Press/Associated Press
Unable to cope with the intense heat, ref Goldstein is helped out of the ring

It was going into the 10th that Robinson told his corner he was getting sleepy. And in Round 11, his legs were rubbery, and spectators could look on with bewilderment as Maxim continued to press forward after the punishment he had received. But Maxim, one of boxing's great overachievers, made a career out of this sort of heart and durability. Never blessed with as much natural talent as some of yesteryear's illustrious prizefighters, in 115 fights, he was knocked out just once—this, in spite of facing off with outstanding punchers and ferocious hitters like Ezzard Charles (five times), Archie Moore (three times) and Bob Satterfield. 

Scheduled for 15, Round 13 would prove to be the last. Sugar had seemed to lose all his bounce. In the closing seconds of the 13th, he loaded up and let loose a wild right hand to his opponent, completely missing and going toppling down to the canvas, face first in a heartrending fashion.

Harry Harris/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press
Maybe the greatest boxer of all-time, Robinson couldn't stand up to the heat that night in New York

Only under assistance from his team would Robinson hobble back to his corner. Suffering from heat stroke, he wouldn't make it out for the start of Round 14.

Maxim's trainer Jack Kearns—a Hall of Famer himself—would later say that it was a part of the game plan to have his fighter lay back and let Robinson punch himself out.

On whether or not the stoppage had more to do with the heat or Maxim's strategy and willpower, San Antonio fans can take solace in the question Maxim posed later in his life (to the Cleveland Plain Dealer via  The New York Times):

"Did I have air-conditioning in my corner?"

No, you didn't, Joey. 

And neither did the Spurs.

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