The two-time champion Miami Heat lost LeBron James to leg cramps and fell to the host San Antonio Spurs in the opener of the NBA Finals as a broken air conditioning system sent court temperatures soaring.
The Spurs won 110-95, finishing last night’s game with a 26-9 run as James, a four-time National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player, sat on the Miami bench wrapped in iced towels and then limped to the locker room.
“I lost all the fluids that I was putting in in the last couple of days out there on the floor,” James said. “It was an unusual circumstance, I never played in a building like that. It’s been a while, like high school.”
Ron Klempner, acting executive director of the NBA Players Association, sent a text saying the conditions were unsuitable for the game.
“The playing conditions for tonight’s game were completely unacceptable from the opening tip,” Klempner wrote. “In a situation like this, there needs to be more open communication before a decision is made that could potentially place players at risk.”
Tim Duncan, a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands who had 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Spurs, said he could not remember playing in such heat since his childhood.
“It was pretty bad out there,” Duncan said in a news conference. “I think we were both worn out and tired. I think it got to a couple of guys, cramps started setting in.”
An electrical failure in the air conditioning system inside San Antonio’s AT&T Center left players sweating profusely and wrapping ice packs around their necks while sitting on the bench.
Spectators fanned themselves with programs and one waved a sign that unexpectedly took on a different meaning: “We’re From Texas, We Can Take the Heat.”
Doris Burke, a reporter for broadcaster ABC, said on air that a thermometer she took to within 10 feet of the court in the fourth quarter registered above 90 degrees (32 degrees Celsius).
“In live sporting events, sometimes things transpire that you don’t expect,” Rod Thorn, the NBA’s president of basketball operations, told reporters. “We were told that there wasn’t anything that could be done about it.”
James led the Heat with 25 points. He raised his hand and asked to come out of the game with 7 1/2 minutes remaining and Miami leading 86-84. James re-entered the game with 4 1/2 minutes remaining and made a layup to pull the Heat within 94-92, but lasted only 34 seconds and had to be carried off the court. San Antonio then closed the game with a 16-3 run.
“When LeBron goes out, obviously you lose the best player in the world, so we took advantage of it,” San Antonio’s Tony Parker told reporters.
The victory gave the Spurs a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven championship series, a repeat of last year’s showdown won in seven games by the Heat. It is the first time since 1997-98, when the Chicago Bulls won two straight titles against the Utah Jazz, that the same teams are meeting in consecutive finals.
Game 2 is set for June 8, also at San Antonio. While Thorn said he is confident the air conditioning will be fixed by then, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich joked that the two days off was helpful for other reasons.
“I think everybody got a little tired or dehydrated for sure,” he said in a news conference. “I’m sure that both teams are going to be happy that we have a couple of days before the next game, and hopefully we can pay our bills.”
A statement released by Spurs Sports & Entertainment blamed the heat on “an electrical failure for the power that runs the AC system.”
Two major U.S. sporting events were affected by power outages in 2013.
Football’s Super Bowl in February was delayed 34 minutes at the Superdome in New Orleans because of a power failure. In October, a power outage forced a 17-minute halt in a game in Detroit in baseball’s American League Championship Series.
“It was an unusual environment, we’re used to having the hotter arena at this time of year,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters. “I think it felt like a punch in the gut when you see your leader limping like that back to the bench.”