It's often said that a playoff series doesn't truly start until a team loses a game on its home court. When it involves LeBron James, particularly when its the NBA Finals, it doesn't begin until there's a controversy -- real or imagined -- about his play or whether or not he should've taken the last shot.
The Heat lost an 86-79 lead to the San Antonio Spurs with more than nine minutes left in Game 1 Thursday, and James exited with four minutes left because of severe cramping in his legs and his team trailing by two. The Spurs ended the game on a 31-9 run for a 110-95 victory.
Temperatures rose to almost 90 degrees inside AT&T Center because the air conditioning system had failed. The Spurs announced Friday that the system was "fully operational" and the heat won't be a problem for Sunday's Game 2.
"I noticed it in warmups. I don't know where it came from. I felt it getting a little warm," James, who had to be carried off the floor, said at a news conference Friday. "I actually sat on the scorer's table for 10 minutes and stopped warming up so I could cool down a little bit.
"I really started to feel it in the second quarter. I never change my uniform but at halftime I changed my whole uniform. In the third quarter I asked to come out at eight minutes to go. I usually play the whole third quarter."
Never let the facts, such as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra telling James to not chance it, get in the way of a good non-controversy that allows detractors to resurrect the "quitter" narrative that followed James after he left the Cleveland Cavaliers at the altar. Social media is ablaze about whether or not James should've tried to play through it, and there are the inevitable comparisons to Michael Jordan's legendary flu game to close out vs. the Utah Jazz to win his fifth championship with the Chicago Bulls in 1997. Or what about the unconscionably hot Boston Garden for those series between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird?
It's a bunch of knee-jerk reactions that lack context. Yes, Jordan did leave a game because of the cramps in the '97 NBA Finals. And the Bulls lost 78-73. Yes, Johnson did leave a game in the 1989 Finals, Game 2 to be exact, because of a hamstring injury. The Lakers eventually would lose 108-105 to the Detroit Pistons.
Were they quitters?
Dan Feldman of ProBasketballTalk interviewed a medical professional to debunk the ridiculous criticisms of James' cramping here. James is a two-way player who exerts more energy, and the Heat rely on him to do most of the heavy lifting. It's why he's on the All-NBA defensive teams, too. That's why such conditions will negatively impact him more than Mario Chalmers or Matt Bullard.
"A player like LeBron James coming out of the ballgame down two, then its serious," teammate Dwyane Wade said Friday. "It's not nothing to be joked about. It was an issue."
Wade is making $18.6 million this season. Chris Bosh, the other member of the Big Three, is making the same as James at $20 million. What about their lack of contributions when the game was on the line?
But here's the short-sightedness in all this drama: The visiting team only has to get the split to turn a series and momentum. It doesn't have to win both games. So if the Heat win Game 2 -- like they did in the East finals vs. the Indiana Pacers who were eliminated in six -- this is all much ado about nothing.
If they lose this series, it'll be because the Spurs are a better team. It won't be because of this overreaction to James having cramps in Game 1.