The sports world has lost its collective mind after Lebron James left game one of the NBA finals with cramps. The image is pretty powerful, seeing a guy as massive as James, hobbled and reaching for his left leg. And while everyone that has ever experienced a cramp, can tell you how painful it can be, it just doesn’t look the same as a broken leg nor does it show up under an MRI like a torn Achilles. So this morning, social media and sports talk radio is all abuzz.
The first, and obvious comparison, is Michael Jordan. Jordan supporters are quick to claim that cramps would never sideline the great MJ. Hey, we all saw him play in the “flu game” where he battled a temperature of 103 in game 5 of the 1997 Finals. Jordan played 44 minutes and scored 38 minutes, and the iconic images of him slouching on the bench and later falling into Scottie Pippen’s arms are etched into the Mount Rushmore of sports images.
But it’s easy to wax poetic about the great Jordan. The truth is, no player has ever entered the NBA and been asked to carry as much weight as Lebron from game one. Accounting for college games, regular season, playoff and Olympic Games; Lebron has played more minutes than Michael, Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson. Kobe has played in 6 more games, but over 200 less minutes. And basketball-reference doesn’t have all the minutes played in Olympic Games, which is worth noting because through age 29 Lebron played 24 games in the Olympics compared to 8 from Kobe.
Jordan, Magic and Kobe are three of the all-time greats. I’d rank all of them in my top five, but none of them are built like Lebron. All that muscle, along with being as athletic as any of them, and all the time he has spent on the court, has to take a toll. Cramps aren’t about mental toughness or being soft, as many are now hinting. Lebron is simply unlucky that he’s more susceptible to cramping, just as some of us mere mortals are prone to debilitating migraines.
If the Heat end up losing the series, James’ legacy will forever be tainted because of he unfortunately cramped up last night. And we’ll continue to praise Jordan, who actually retired twice after winning an NBA championship. Yet we never seem to question his heart or commitment. We’ll tell our grandkids about Magic Johnson, and frankly, his lack of discipline off the court quite possibly lead to him retiring at the age of 31. And we’re awed by the laser like focus Kobe Bryant showed, while standing trial for the rape of a teenage girl in Colorado. Somehow, that kind of focus is considered admirable. I’ve had my issues with Kobe, and I’ve come around to the point that I’d actually call myself a bit of a Kobe fan. But let’s be honest, assuming he’s innocent, there’s something scary about someone being able to compartmentalize like that. The very day he plead not-guilty in court, he flew to San Antonio and scored 42 points. He was facing 20 years to life in prison. I don’t mean to make this about Kobe, and what did or didn’t happen in Colorado, but that’s just bizarre.
We shouldn’t be questioning Lebron’s heart today. We should be upset that an unfortunate electronic malfunction robbed us of what could have been a game for the ages.