By John Schmeelk
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The shark has officially been jumped with LeBron James. People have lost their damn minds.
For anyone to question James’ toughness or heart after Thursday night’s game are clueless, lost, dishonest, and idiotic. To compare his inability to play through debilitating leg cramps to Michael Jordan playing with the flu is false equivalency of the greatest order.
No one was tougher on James after his “decision” press conference than I was. It was one of the most self-serving, selfish, and jerk moves in the history of sports. James decided to go on national television and tell not only the Cleveland fan base, but the place he grew up in, Akron, Ohio, that he was abandoning them. All the heat he took for it was warranted. His popularity plummeted and has never completely recovered. It was all completely warranted.
What we are seeing now is not. James has been the best player on a team that has won two championships and been to four consecutive NBA Finals. He, himself, has been to the Finals five times. He has made big shots and big plays in an endless number of playoff games.
The narrative that he is not tough, a true star, clutch, or a big time player has to die.
“But how can he now play through cramps! Jordan would have!”
That’s the garbage that’s been regurgitated by a small group of writers, media personalities, talk show hosts and fans since Thursday night. This wasn’t a situation where James’ calf was cramping. This wasn’t the equivalent of waking up in the middle of the night with a huge muscle knot in your calf, which we’ve all experienced. His entire leg locked up. LeBron’s quadriceps and hamstrings wouldn’t function. He literally couldn’t bend his knee. It is impossible to play basketball in that condition.
And it’s not as if James didn’t try to play through the cramps. After leaving at the 7:31 mark, James came back into the game three minutes later and finished on a drive to the basket. As soon as he landed his leg locked up. He tried to play through it but his body wouldn’t let him. It wasn’t his choice. It would be the equivalent of asking a pitcher to start a game without being able to bend his elbow. Once the muscles lock, the only thing that can fix it is hydration and time. There wasn’t enough of the latter to get it done.
The only thing you may be able to fault LeBron for is that perhaps he didn’t hydrate as much as he should have. But how was he supposed to be able to anticipate the air conditioner in San Antonio malfunctioning? And while it’s true the conditions did not affect the other players as much as they did James, that’s a matter of biology, not toughness. Some players, like James, are more susceptible to cramps. James also has to do more and work harder than any other player on the floor. To make this about anything other than hydration and biology is a joke. James fell into a lot of bad luck and it hurt his team.
I get not liking James and rooting against him. It’s fun to root against the star and the super team. But there has to be some level of honesty about it. He has won two titles, been to five Finals and played well in them. He is without question the best player on the planet the last five years in the NBA. He has accomplished a ton. Give him some credit and for goodness sakes and get off his back.
* How about this: I think the Spurts would have won that game even if James was on the floor. They ended up winning by 15 points. They started protecting the ball well. Danny Green got hot, someone James likely would not have been guarding anyway. Obviously, James’ presence would have made a huge difference, but it would not have guaranteed a Heat victory.
* Welcome back Manu Ginobili. That must have felt great for the guy who played so poorly last year. He played better in Game 1 than he did in any game last season, except for Game 5. That said, though, in the second half we started to see the reckless Ginobili that got into some trouble during last year’s Finals. There were some out-of-control drives and home run passes that could land him in trouble later in the series.
* Dwyane Wade looked great in the first half, but it looked like he might have ran out of gas a little bit in the heat.
* The Heat have no answer for Tim Duncan. That will be a theme the rest of this series because the Spurs will continue to feed him down low until the Heat figure out a way to stop him. When Chris Bosh fronts, the help comes too late, and when he plays behind Duncan he can’t stop him one on one.
* The Spurs reminded everyone in Game 1 why they are the best passing team in the NBA, especially in the paint.
* The Heat should really be punching themselves. The Spurs should never win a game against the Heat when they have more than 20 turnovers. Miami also needs to be careful blitzing those high screen and rolls. Ginobili might struggle with it a bit, but Tony Parker will tear those aggressive plays apart with his quickness and passing.
For everything Knicks, NBA, Giants and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk
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