To all the Twitter trolls and erstwhile Internet antagonists out there who ragged on LeBron James for succumbing to severe cramps in Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, I offer the curious case of one Michael Jordan.
Yes, even the greatest player in the history of basketball battled dehydration on occasion.
Like when His Airness made his "triumphant" return to the Chicago Bulls in March of 1995. In his first game back, Jordan scored 19 points against the Indiana Pacers, but shot just 7-of-28 from the floor in a 103-96 overtime loss for the Bulls in Indianapolis.
Most of MJ's misfires could be chalked up to rust—he'd spent the previous season-and-a-half playing minor league baseball for the Birmingham Barons—and a lack of familiarity with his new running mates. But Jordan's own physical failings had something to do with it as well. As Sports Illustrated's Phil Taylor wrote at the time:
But on Sunday, before the first quarter had ended, the 32-year-old Jordan was bending over and tugging on his shorts, the universal symbol for fatigue, and in the overtime he developed leg cramps. Asked if he was disappointed that he didn't get a chance to dunk, Jordan replied, "I was cramping so bad I didn't really want to."
See? Even the Greatest of All Time couldn't fight through the pain of in-game leg cramps.
You might counter, though, that this was a regular-season game, one without the consequences of a championship bout like the one from which James had to withdraw. And, moreover, Jordan wasn't yet in proper "basketball shape" when he first donned his No. 45 Bulls jersey.
As it happens, Jordan did struggle with cramping at least once during his six Finals appearances. In Game 4 of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz—just three nights before MJ's famed "Flu Game"—Jordan and his teammates succumbed to debilitating stomach cramps due to an error by the Bulls staff. Here's Roland Lazenby's account of the incident from his new book, Michael Jordan: The Life (h/t Pro Basketball Talk's Dan Feldman):
It would later be learned that a Bulls team assistant had mistakenly replaced the players’ Gatorade with GatorLode, a heavy drink used for building carbs. “It was like eating baked potatoes,” explained trainer Chip Schaeffer. Down the stretch, Chicago’s players complained of stomach cramps and Jordan even asked to sit for a time, something he never did at a key moment.
Jordan finished with 22 points on 11-of-27 shooting—without a single trip to the free-throw line—in Chicago's 78-73 defeat. Like LeBron, Jordan was done in by highly unusual circumstances: the wrong fluids in his case, busted air conditioning in James'.
The electrical problem behind the A/C failure at the AT&T Center has since been fixed, per Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin. Now, it'll be up to James to rebound from his crunch-time absence with a strong performance in Game 2. If Jordan was able to follow up his "Cramp Game" with 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals while fighting through the flu—or food poisoning, according to Tim Grover, Jordan's long-time trainer—just imagine what a healthy and motivated James might do.
After all, it's not as though James was at all stifled by San Antonio's defense. In 33 minutes prior to his exit, James had piled up 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting, including a drive to the hoop past Boris Diaw immediately before asking out for good.
Twitter: no leg cramps, just brain cramps.
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