David White

June 7, 2014

David White: With chance to be legendary, Heat star LeBron James stalls

Oh, cramp.

LeBron James abdicated his throne the other night, carried off the NBA Finals court by all the King's men with leg cramps. Not compound-fractured legs. Not severed-by-machete legs. Cramping legs.

By grabbing some chair when it mattered most, James lost more than the Miami Heat's series opener against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday.

The King lost a chance at the legendary.

Everyone knows James is an all-time great; all the cramps in the world can do nothing to change that. He is his sport's transcendent star, the greatest NBA player of his generation. He's won two straight NBA Finals, and if he comes back this week to win a third ring, no one is going to remember the night he had no leg to stand on.

But James should aspire to do more than make people forget what he didn't do. If he wants anyone to think he's better than Jordan or Russell or Chamberlain, the idea is to do the unforgettable.

Something like limp and wince and cramp-spasm your team to victory, or at least go paralytic trying.

"My body just shut down," James told reporters afterward.

Of course it did. The A/C went out at San Antonio's AT&T Center. Temperatures inside reached 90 degrees.

It afforded James every excuse to sit out the pivotal hour of the day. It also offered him a window to an iconic moment.

This was James' chance to become a legend. Because, all the great ones have a tale of walking to the arena, in the snow, both ways, with a mean case of gout and scurvy on top.

Think Michael Jordan, dropping 38 points in the 1997 NBA Finals with food poisoning so viral that he stayed in bed until 70 minutes before tipoff. His go-ahead 3-pointer with 25 seconds won the Flu Game.

Consider Rams defensive end Jack Youngblood, breaking his left leg midway through a 1979 NFL playoff game, and playing through all the way to the Super Bowl.

Remember Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, playing with a busted ankle tendon held in a bloody sock in Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, a precursor to Boston's curse-breaking World Series victory.

Look at Tiger Woods, golfing 91 holes with a torn ACL and double stress fractures in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, hobbling in pain to win a sudden-death playoff for his 14th major.

You know who Kirk Gibson is because of his gimpy home run in the '88 World Series. Kobe Bryant has lore by the tonnage because he stayed on the court for two free throws after tearing his Achilles' heel.

This isn't about going all Sven at a Tough Guy Competition. It's about seizing the Code Blue moment in front of a national audience, and force them to never forget what they just saw.

James isn't soft; he's human. There is nothing wrong with that, but there also isn't anything spectacular about it.

If James wants to be one of the NBA greats, he'll IV up and win another NBA title. But if James wants to be immortal, he'll find a way to beat the Spurs with two legs tied behind his back.

Now that would be the stuff of legends.

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About David White

David White


David White is a former sportswriter for The Fresno Bee and the San Francisco Chronicle. He is pastor of the Porterville Church of God.

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