Me and LeBron
I ran my first marathon in 1983. I had been running regularly for several years and had recently hooked up with a lunchtime running group of five or six runners of which I was easily the slowest. We ran a standard course of about 7 miles and someone would always push the pace at the end. I began to get faster and my weekend runs got longer. One of the noontime runners, Fred, asked me if I wanted to run the Long Beach Marathon with him. We began to increase the length of our weekend runs and when I was logging over twenty miles on my Saturday run, I sent in my entrance fee. The Long Beach Marathon was known as a good beginners marathon, a primarily flat course that ran largely along the coast in March which usually meant cool weather. The plan was for Fred to run by my side to keep me moving at a reasonable pace and keep me out of trouble. The best-laid plan failed when he got sick at about the seven mile mark and told me to go ahead. It was a beautiful, cool spring day and I got into the spirit of the middle-of-the-packers, talking to other runners and visiting with spectators out to cheer us on. At 22 miles, I was right on pace for a three and a half hour marathon.
I had been told over and over that the marathon doesn’t start until twenty miles but here I was cruising along. Fred had warned me during our training runs to keep drinking at every water stop and up to that point I’d forced down so much water and Gatorade that my stomach was sloshing. But I felt great and wanted to get the whole thing over with, so I skipped the next water station. Then the next one. I still felt great so I picked up the pace and skipped a few more. By the twenty-four mile marker, I was walking because every time I tried to run, my calves and quads cramped. Severe dehydration does funny things to the mind and while I was too damn stubborn to quit, I briefly considered stepping outside the cones marking the course and letting a passing car just knick me so I’d have no choice but to take a ride to the finish. Believe me, I drank at every water station from then on but all I could manage was a fast walk … until I turned the corner at the end and the finish line was several hundred yards away. The street was lined with people screaming, Run! C’mon, you can do it! Finish fast! Run! God, I hated those people but I tried and … hello … I could do it. I gradually increased my pace and let the cheers carry me … I even gave a few high fives. I felt great until I hit the Finish Line. I cramped from the waist down and fell into the arms of two volunteers who helped me to the medical tent. It took an hour of fluids and massage before I could even move.
Thursday night, LeBron James cramped up in the fourth quarter of the first NBA Finals game with the San Antonio Spurs. The air conditioning had failed in the Spurs’ arena and the ninety-degree heat led to LeBron’s dehydration and cramping. The so-called fans on social media and sports talk radio are crucifying him for subbing out of the game. A real champion would never do that, they say. Michael Jordan wouldn’t have quit. Kobe Bryant wouldn’t have quit. I am not a LeBron fan. I hated the way everyone called him the King before he did anything. I disliked how he left the Cleveland Cavaliers and his arrogant prediction of more than seven championships with the Miami Heat was beyond classless. Besides, he didn’t play for my Lakers. But discovering a championship wasn’t going to fall into his lap gave James some humility and with two championships under his belt, I find I can appreciate how good he is. But until last night, I’d have said I have nothing in common with LeBron James but watching him stand there, unable to move under the basket while the game went on without him, there was one thing. I’d been there. The fan boys and the haters who say he could have played through those cramps are idiots. Even the classless marketing clowns over at Gatorade took to Twitter to take a few shots at the King, who endorses Powerade. Jeez.
I love sports. Sometimes, though, clowns like these make me hesitant to admit it.