Heat coach Erik Spoelstra sat at the interview dais before the gathered national media here Friday, tap-tapped the microphone to make sure it was on, then uttered a single nonsense word that perfectly described the bridge to Game 2 of these NBA Finals.
“Crampgate,” he murmured, as if tossing a bloody steak to a dog, or inviting race car drivers to start their engines.
Miami’s Game 1 loss Thursday night fomented speculation about whether the Spurs and coach Gregg Popovich had somehow arranged for the mysterious air-conditioning outage that turned the arena into a sauna — or what Spoelstra called “a hot yoga environment” — and led to the severe cramping that erased LeBron James from the game and contributed to the Heat’s late collapse.
Predictably they announced the cool air would be back on when the teams next meet here Sunday night. Meantime, Popovich mocked the notion of skullduggery with deadpan humor.
“I saw all the air-conditioning people in the hallway on the way out,” he said, “and I sent ’em home.”
A phenomenon even more widespread than conspiracy theories to arise from the odd Finals opener was the thoroughly and sadly predictable social-media backlash against James.
How fitting that the instant ignorance would find its chorus on Twitter, the national font of mob mentality, metastasizing irrationality and anonymous hatred. On the bright side, the format requires the deranged to at least be concise.
I found it particularly precious that Jonathan Martin (yes, that Jonathan Martin) volunteered himself as the face of the stupidity before immediately lapsing into damage control and exercising the universal my-bad: a Tweet deleted quickly, but too late.
“C’mon, bruh,” Martin mindlessly shared with the world as James left the game wincing in pain, his muscles locked. “Drink a Gatorade and get back out there.”
The fact LeBron endorses rival Powerade was the least of Martin’s faux pas.
(“Our athletes can take the heat,” came a snarky, classless Tweet from Gatorade.)
Worse than the brand mixup was Martin casually passing along such an idiotic misconception about what serious cramping can do to the body, how debilitating it can be even to the most athletic, well-conditioned body.
Then there was the delicious irony that Martin, of all people — the poster child for Wimpy & Soft as the unsympathetic victim in the Dolphins’ nationally embarrassing bullying mess — was the athlete to publicly lecture LeBron James on toughing it out.
It was a kitten chiding a lion.
It was Pee Wee Herman in a UFC octagon.
“What everybody have to say, I don’t care,” James said.
The Twitterverse mocking James for falling victim to his cramping, and suggesting a tougher man could have finished the game, verified what a great percentage of Tweeters not only are not members of MENSA but could not spell the acronym if you spotted them M-E-N.
“From the outside people think, ‘Oh it’s a cramp. You can’t play with a cramp?’ ” Dwyane Wade said Friday. “But unless you walk in somebody else’s moccasins, you don’t know. If a player like LeBron comes out of a game, it’s serious. It’s nothing to be joked about.”
James not only is the world’s single greatest current practitioner of the art of basketball, but also he is one of the most durable and dependable. Cramps might be his very occasional ill-timed Kryptonite, but even with that he is the NBA’s iron man.
Let these numbers sink in, because in some ways they are as impressive as the scoring average or the MVPs:
LeBron’s teams in 11 seasons have played 886 regular-season games, and James has played in 842, or 95 percent. His teams have played in 154 postseason games, and LeBron has been in all 154. I needn’t tell even Twitter’s dullest bulbs what percentage that is.
In total, this man being questioned and mocked for letting cramps keep him down has played in 996 of a possible 1,040 career games, or 95.8 percent.
Sunrise is less reliable.
Look at Kobe Bryant’s injury woes in Los Angeles and Derrick Rose’s in Chicago and others’ around the NBA. James’ durability mustn’t be taken for granted any more than his excellence. We were reminded Thursday that his value to the Heat is sometimes best seen when he isn’t on the court. We also were reminded how fragile this three-peat dream is, and how disproportionately it depends on one man.
James has had two wildly aberrant performances this postseason. One was that seven-point game wrought by foul trouble. The other was Thursday’s cramp game.
But he almost always bounces back from such adversity, and that’s why Heat fans have come to rely on their team doing the same.
Miami, usually led by James, bounces back from a playoff loss.
Miami has played 46 consecutive postseason games since last losing two in a row. During that stretch the Heat is 11-0 following a loss, including 4-0 in the Finals — streaks all facing a critical challenge Sunday night.
Responding to adversity has been this team’s DNA.
Remember in the summer of 2010 when we all imagined how easy this would be? How when LeBron shouted, “not one, not two, not three ...!” at that pep rally we envisioned the Big 3-led Heat waltzing unimpeded to a dynasty?
It hasn’t been easy, or close.
This spot, right now, trailing and facing another unfriendly crowd, is familiar ground.
Miami in this four-season LeBron era is playing in its 16th postseason series, and this Finals is now the 10th in which the Heat has trailed at some point. The only one lost has been the first Finals in 2011, to Dallas. Everything else has seen Miami resolve.
Now we shall see if that streak will go on.
Either way, the one thing you can most count on, not doubt, is LeBron James.
Asked about his status for Sunday, James said, straight-faced, “I probably won’t play.”
You know better.