LeBron James Feeling Fine After His Critics' Latest Brain Cramp

Ethan Skolnick@@EthanJSkolnickNBA Senior WriterJune 7, 2014

SAN ANTONIO — In the better part of a day since LeBron James spoke only to a pool reporter and strolled slowly out of a steamy, slippery and somewhat stinky AT&T Center, there was considerable anticipation about how the Heat forward would explain himself to the larger press and public.

How could cramps sideline the NBA's elite athletic specimen in Game 1 of the NBA Finals?

How did he feel about watching his Heat teammates flounder without him in the final four minutes, falling 110-95?

What did he think of some of the social media chatter, from those who should know better (former NBA coach and current ESPN analyst Mark Jackson), those who rarely do (professional ESPN provocateur Skip Bayless) and those who you think would steer clear of such subjects (49ers offensive tackle Jonathan Martin) suggesting that he should have pushed through the pain? And, further, what did he think of the general populace taking cues from that criticism, and questioning his desire and durability?

But then, by the time he finally sat at the podium inside the Spurs' cool and comfortable practice facility, the need to hear from him had abated, along with the extreme tightness that had stricken his left side the night before.

Everyone else with common sense, even on the other side of the series, had already spoken for him.

Essentially, they explained to the uninformed what it takes to be an elite athlete, and how cramps can take anyone—even someone chiseled from stoneout of commission. 

"I've had cramps, debilitating cramps," teammate Shane Battier said. "Most people don't put themselves through a strenuous enough workout to understand what true dehydration is. You know, the Zumba classes don't count."

Battier laughed.

"Nothing against Zumba, I'm sure (those workouts) are very strenuous," Battier said. "But they're not going to dehydrate you to the point where you can't even walk. So you have to give LeBron the benefit of the doubt on that one. There's a reason why there are only 450 players in the NBA. It's the best athletes in the world, and our bodies are our livelihood, and they are very finely-tuned. We put a lot of stress on our bodies every single night. And, in a playoff game, the physical and mental exertion is amazing. That's why it's so difficult to win a championship. And it just happens." 

And so does this.

Bayless spewing a bunch of predictable stuff on Twitter and on his television show about how "LeCramp," as he maturely labeled the Heat forward, "let his team down." 

Jackson, generally a strong supporter of James, quoted by the @SportsCenter Twitter account as saying, "If you're LeBron James, the great ones find a way to tell their body, not now...I'll talk to you tomorrow." 

Martin, who walked away from the Miami Dolphins after the 2013 season's seventh gamewhile accusing his apparent close buddy Richie Incognito of bullyingtweeting "C'mon bruh. Drink a Gatorade and get out there" to a two-time champion who missed a single contest's final four minutes. 

Fans, especially those of other superstars, taking these ridiculous ramblings and running with them, the same way they've run with other narratives about James' toughness and clutchness that statistics and fellow athletes typically contradict. 

"At this point, very little surprises me," Battier said. "If nothing else, I'm impressed by the creativity of the narrative. So whoever is making the storyline should be commended on their supreme creativity. LeBron will always be, for the rest of his career, the most scrutinized player in the game, the most scrutinized player in sports. Even when he walks away from the game, and takes up golf, people are going to say, you shot an 85, you should have shot an 80. That's just LeBron. That's the cross he's going to carry." 

But here's what happened Friday: 

The Spurs, gentlemen and scholars that they are, helped carry it for him. 

And it made the one silly NBA Finals storyline that James essentially startedclaiming that the Spurs "don't like us" because of one innocuous Tim Duncan declarationseem even sillier. 

Gregg Popovich, who has consistently chided James' critics with more force and flair than any coach outside Miami, said that "what may be more amazing to me is the way he's conducted himself over the years with all the scrutiny. None of us really understand what that is. He's done it pretty damn well."

Tony Parker paid tribute to James' competitiveness, adding that he hoped the air conditioning was working for Game 2 because "I want to play the real Miami Heat, the two‑time champs, with LeBron back. I hope it's not bad. And I hope he's going to be 100 percent on Sunday. Because as a competitor you want to play against the best and that's how I feel."

Duncan shot down a statement from a Bexar County official that the heat in the arena was overblown, insisting that "it was definitely hotter than normal," and relating his own cramping story. That occurred in Game 7 of the 2006 Western Conference Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, when Duncan recorded 41 points and 15 rebounds, but was clearly slowed down the stretch, making just one of his final seven shots as Dirk Nowitzki advanced to the NBA Finals. 

"Ever since then I've just stayed more hydrated than usual, just tried to attack it before it gets to that point," Duncan said. "And luckily I've had a couple of times where I've cramped up since then, but for the most part I've been able to stay away from it."

And couldn't James have shaken it off, gotten back on the court?

"There is no shaking it off," Duncan said. "Your body is shutting down and you're unable to move. Whatever is cramping, you're unable to get away from that. It's easy to say to shake it off but once it's gotten to that point it's hard to reverse in a short period of time."

That, incidentally, is what Tim Grover would say about three hours later, during an appearance on Sirius/XM NBA radio. Grover trained two of the players to whom James is constantly compared, especially when it comes to mental and physical toughness: Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Shortly after Sunday's game, the memes made the rounds, unfavorably associating James with those two stars' legendary bravery. 

"When you have a flu or an ankle, the muscles still work," Grover said, mentioning ailments his clients are credited for playing through. "You can't even compare it."

But, of course, everyone was. 

And so, at last, a few words from James. 

He spoke of still being "pretty sore," after taking two-and-a-half bags of IVs, and about three times as many, well, leaks. He sounded, after getting no sleep, as if he'd like nothing better than to take a long nap. He spoke of believing that he had hydrated properly, but noticing in warmups that it was warmer than usual, warm enough that he sat on the scorer's table for 10 minutes to cool and rest. He spoke of changing his uniform at halftime, to remove some of the sweat, before asking out three times in the second half, for good after his last layup cut the Spurs' lead to two. 

"My body just shut down, basically my body said, 'OK, enough jumping for you for the night,'" James said. "You've had enough. Nothing I could do about it."

Well, according to Mark Jackson, he could have talked back. 

James spoke about being "disappointed in myself." 

But what about others' disappointment in him, in his preparation for such an occurrence, in his unwillingness to override Erik Spoelstra's stop sign, in his choice of sports drinks to endorse? 

"I'm not on social media right now, (but) obviously I hear about it, because I know you guys are going to ask me, so I need to be ready for it," James said. "The medical team we have here, man, my training staff and (I) do a great job of preparing for a game. 

"What everybody has to say, you guys should know me by now; I don't care, I really don't. I really don't care what people say about me, I don't care about that sports group, the drink group thatI'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, man, I don't care."

That sports drink group, of course, is Gatorade, the Twitter account of which tweeted that its clients can take the heateven though this member of the Heat, a rival Powerade endorser, actually drinks their product also, and just covers the logo when he does. 

Of Spoelstra's decision, James said, "I did want to go back in the game, and he was like, 'Hey, don't even try it. It's a long series.' And I respected that. I could have gotten myself into more trouble. You know, if I go out there and try to play through a cramp and pull something, it could be even worse."

Instead, he vowed to be available for Game 2, after what he called "a freak thing" in "extreme conditions."

He's had the cramping problem since high school, and he's taken tests that show him susceptible, but as he noted, "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. It happened in the OKC series and it happened last night. So bad timing on my part, you know, and hopefully it doesn't happen again."

Even if something else will:

Creative, concocted storylines. 

"Don't worry, you guys can talk about me as much as you want," James said, to close. "I'll be there on Sunday as well. I'm not hiding."

If you didn't think that press conference was worth the wait, Sunday should be.


Ethan Skolnick covers the Miami Heat for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @EthanJSkolnick.


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