The NBA Finals had a surreal start in San Antonio on June 5. While the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat were seemingly fighting to the finish in Game 1 of their rematch, actual heat became a factor in the NBA Finals for the first time since the old Boston Garden days. When the lack of working air conditioning and the 90 degree court temperatures then seemed to make LeBron James cramp up -- and when the Heat collapsed without him at the end of their 110-95 defeat to the Spurs -- Game 1 itself became an afterthought.
In the fourth quarter, the Heat were ahead by as many as seven points, while James was on his way to a 25-point performance that would likely get even bigger. But just when Miami closed in on stealing Game 1, James could barely move. Cramps forced James onto the bench, which gave the Spurs the chance to go ahead on two Danny Green three-pointers, after he hadn't made a field goal all night.
James came back briefly and got a basket to cut the Spurs' lead to two. However, he couldn't even walk to get to the other end of the court, let alone run. By the end, he had to be carried the last few feet towards the bench, where he wouldn't leave until the final buzzer.
By then, the Spurs took control of the game and capped a 31-9 run in the fourth quarter. If San Antonio gets its revenge in this NBA Finals rematch, then everyone will wonder if it would have happened without James cramping up -- or without the faulty air conditioning at AT&T Center.
People are already wondering about James' legacy and his ability to play through pain all over again. Long time enemies like ESPN's Skip Bayless actively blamed James for costing the Heat, while those who recalled Michael Jordan playing through the flu in the 1997 NBA Finals had their opening to call James soft. Nevertheless, fellow champion Isiah Thomas defended James by telling Yahoo Sports that "no athlete" -- not even Jordan -- could play through those cramps.
Winning two championships and being on the brink of a third was supposed to secure James' legacy. But if these finals don't get any better for him, the naysayers will be back in force all over again.