LeBron James won his first title last week, but he also very narrowly avoided what could have been the biggest firestorm of criticism of his life.
In the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, James suffered brutal leg cramps and had to be carried off. He briefly made a return, heroically hitting a 3-pointer before being forced back to the bench, where he watched his Heat teammates finish off the 104-98 win. He then bounced back to play Game 5 and seal the series.
Had Miami lost that game, though, James would have been subjected to another round of criticism aimed at his inability to perform in the fourth quarter. Even as it was, jokes about his "cramps" made the rounds on Twitter and Facebook.
Interestingly, James, who has been ridiculed for his supposed inability to perform in crunch time, admitted in an ESPN interview that the cramps actually could have been caused, in part, by nerves.
"It was a possibility," he said. "I don't change my preparation. It could have been a little bit of excitement, the moment, being in that moment again. It could have been a little bit of everything that led to that. One thing I know: I'm glad I have great teammates. They were able to win that game with me sitting out."
James said that he began feeling his legs cramp up much earlier in the game.
"Around the second quarter, I felt that it was a possible chance it could happen," he said. "In the third quarter, it kind of happened again. If you can just make it to the end of the game, then get to the locker room and cramp up, I would be OK with that. One move in the fourth quarter and I knew it wasn't good."
As the physical pain developed, James understood the stakes that faced him.
"I was like: 'No, this is not happening right now, not right now in a game that could turn a series.'"