- Royce Young, NBA Writer
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SAN ANTONIO -- Miami Heat forward LeBron James was forced to exit early from Game 1 of the NBA Finals because of severe leg cramping caused by extremely warm temperatures after the air conditioning in the arena malfunctioned.
"It was the whole left leg, damn near the whole left side," James said. "I was losing a lot [of fluids] throughout the game. It was extremely hot in the building, you know, both teams, fans, everybody could feel it. I was the one that had to take the shot."
"It was an unusual circumstance," James said. "I never played in a building like that, it's been a while, like a high school game or [youth basketball], and everybody is sitting on top and you feel good being in a building like that."
James, who could be heard telling teammates during the game that "they're trying to smoke us out of here," scored 25 points in 33 minutes before heading to the locker room.
James exited the game with 7:31 remaining in the fourth quarter because of the cramping but returned with 3:59 left for one play, finishing a driving layup. He signaled to come out immediately after, limping to the bench before having to be carried off.
James said he received intravenous fluids during the game and even changed his uniform at halftime to try to stay dry. But he couldn't prevent the onset of cramping that eventually locked up his left leg, forcing him to hobble to the bench with teammates eventually carrying him off the floor.
"It's frustration and anger, but at the same time, it's something that you try to prevent, you try to control," James said. "I mean, I got all the fluids I need to get, I do my normal routine I've done and it was inevitable for me tonight, throughout the conditions, you know, out there on the floor. I lost all the fluids that I was putting in in the last couple of days out there on the floor. It sucks not being out there for your team, especially at this point in the season."
Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas didn't begrudge James for not returning.
"There is no athlete on the planet who could've played through those cramps," Thomas told Yahoo! Sports. "Michael Jordan absolutely couldn't have played through those cramps. I absolutely couldn't have played through those cramps. As an athlete, there's nothing you could do."
A power failure for the electrical systems that run the AT&T Center left the arena without air conditioning. The Spurs Sports & Entertainment group said in a statement Friday that the air conditioning had been repaired and would continue to be monitored going into Sunday's Game 2.
With the temperature in the arena reaching as high as 90 degrees during Game 1, all players were visibly exhausted, some even putting ice packs on their necks during timeouts. Fans, who conveniently were given noisemakers that doubled as handheld fans, tried to cool themselves for the duration of the game.
"It was an unusual environment," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We're used to having the hotter arena at this time of year, but both teams had to deal with it. It's unfortunate that it was that way. It was how we responded in those minutes after that point. I think it felt like a punch in the gut when you see your leader limping like that back to the bench, but at the same time, we still had an opportunity to make plays going down the stretch, and they made obviously the biggest plays in the last five minutes."
The Spurs overcame a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit, sparked by 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting from Spurs guard Danny Green.
"I think it was probably tough on both teams," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Players were pretty dead. So we tried to get guys in and out a little bit more than we usually do. Kind of screws up the rhythm a little bit but it was mighty hot out there."
Said Spurs forward Tim Duncan: "I don't think I've played in anything like this since I left the [Virgin] Islands. It was pretty bad out there."
The uncomfortable situation affected both teams, although the Spurs were able to handle it better. Spurs guard Tony Parker noted that he often played in similar environments in Europe, and with a large part of the Spurs' roster made up of international athletes used to playing without air conditioning, that potentially contributed to their ability to respond.
"Me personally, it didn't bother me, felt like in Europe," Parker said. "Felt like I was playing in the European championship. We never have AC in Europe, so it didn't bother me at all."
Said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili: "And for sure I play more years in situations like this than with AC on the court. Not a big deal in that case."
The arena concourses were wet following the game because of the humidity in the arena as sweaty fans piled out chanting, "Beat the Heat," or possibly, "Beat the heat." During the third quarter, the public address announcer apologized for "any inconvenience" and assured fans the arena staff was attempting to resolve the issue.
The Spurs have had a few unique occurrences in the arena this postseason, including a snake found in the visitors locker room during the second round, causing some speculation of conspiracy. But Spoelstra dismissed any notion of that.
"No, that would take an incredible mind to try to plan that for both teams to be able to go through that," he said.
Players on both teams were routinely seen pulling at their clothes more than unusual and trying to find respite from the enveloping warmth while on the bench.
"At a point, we would go to the bench and I would see cold towels everywhere and I didn't realize back then," Ginobili said. "Then when we went to the locker room at halftime, whew, we were sweating more in the locker room than on the court, and when we came back, it was tough."
As the temperatures rose, Gatorade (the NBA's official sports drink provider) tweeted about the conditions.
- Gatorade (@Gatorade) June 6, 2014
Many fans responded to the tweet when James left the game early in the fourth quarter, then again when he had to be helped off the court, leading Gatorade to respond.
@ryanbkoo The person cramping wasn't our client. Our athletes can take the heat.
- Gatorade (@Gatorade) June 6, 2014
James is an endorser of Powerade, a competitor to Gatorade, while teammate Dwyane Wade is one of Gatorade's highest-profile endorsers.
NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn said that at no point was there consideration to stop or postpone the game because of the issue.
"I'm sure that both teams are going to be happy that we have a couple of days before the next game," Popovich said. "And hopefully we can pay our bills."
Miami Heat forward LeBron James was forced to exit early from Game 1 of the NBA Finals because of severe leg cramping caused by extremely warm temperatures after the air conditioning in the arena malfunctioned.