Even a woman who performs complex yoga maneuvers in stifling heat sympathizes with Miami Heat star LeBron James, who was forced to exit Game 1 of the NBA Finals with cramps after a broken air conditioner caused temperatures to skyrocket at the AT&T Center.
The 90-degree temperature court forced a dehydrated, cramping James to leave the floor with just four minutes remaining in the Heat’s matchup with the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday. With James out of their way, the Spurs went on a 16-3 run in the game’s final moments and secured a 110-95 victory.
Many critics, including Gatorade’s official Twitter account, took to social media to criticize James for letting cramps force him off the court during a crucial point in an NBA Finals game. But Aiko Nakasone, a Bikram yoga instructor who trains for hours in rooms heated to temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, believes that James’ ailment was a byproduct of the unique conditions caused by the AT&T Center’s broken air conditioner, rather than an indictment of his conditioning.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with his conditioning, or lack thereof,” Nakasone, who co-owns Bikram Yoga Downtown NY with her husband Troy Meyers, told International Business Times in a phone interview. “I think it was the unique circumstance of the heat. If the body isn’t used to working out or doing that kind of physical activity in those kinds of conditions. … He’s a heavy sweater, he probably has very low body fat. His body might be more susceptible to cramping. Your body doesn’t recover fast enough once it’s on that path.”
“In the Bikram yoga world, I know a lot of guys who have very low body fat. They’re more susceptible to cramping,” she added.
Gatorade’s official Twitter account mocked James for not using their product to stayed hydrated, but Nakasone points out that the four-time NBA MVP’s cramps would not have been alleviated by chugging a sports drink.
“It was so late in the game. They probably tried to give him electrolytes or Gatorade or whatever. […] There’s no position of your body that you won’t cramp up,” she said. “And even if give electrolytes to him, it takes at least 20 minutes for the body to digest the water and for the electrolytes to go into your system. It’s so hard to recover from that.”
As for those who criticized James for not “toughing it out” and playing through the pain in his left leg, Nakasone said that even world-class athletes can be incapacitated by a bad cramp.
“Honestly, the muscle just seizes up. Once it grabs, it locks. You can stretch it for a little bit and it might release it for a little while, but as soon as you move and contract the muscle to work, if it’s in that cramping mode, it’ll just cramp and seize up again,” she said.
James will get a chance to redeem himself on Sunday, when the Heat and the Spurs clash in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. In the meantime, he might want to load up on electrolytes — or hire someone to fix the air conditioner.