The science of LeBron's cramping

LeBron Chart

With a touch more than four minutes left in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals, LeBron James crossed over Boris Diaw, drove hard to the rim and floated a layup. With 4:10 left to play, the ball dropped through the hoop, bringing the  Miami Heat within two points of the San Antonio Spurs and setting up what was sure to be another memorable Finals finish from two teams that specialize in them.

And what happened next will indeed be forever remembered, but not for the basketball. What happened next was ... nothing. The most famous and best player in the world landed on the baseline and then stuck there, as if he had grown roots. Play continued at the other end as James eventually waved for help. He would be carried off and would not return.

On the Heat bench, sweltering in a June-in-Texas arena with nonfunctioning air conditioning, one of James' lesser-known teammates, Justin Hamilton, immediately began having flashbacks.

You have probably never heard of Hamilton. The 24-year-old has played in only seven games for the Heat and was in street clothes on Thursday. He was a D-League All-Star this season, averaging 19 points and nine rebounds for the Sioux Falls SkyForce -- the Heat's minor league affiliate -- which earned him the right to sit on the Heat bench since late March.

As Hamilton tells it, not long ago he worried cramps would end his career. If you watch the tape from Game 1, you'll notice Hamilton was one of the first players to come to James' aid -- not just because this is what benchwarmers do, but because Hamilton had been there.

The pain, the helplessness, the confusion. It all came rushing back.

Cramps should probably be called temporary muscle paralysis. That's what really happens. When it hits, according to athletes who experience it and specialists who have studied it, you cannot move. This is not the type of cramp that you get while, say, gripping your tennis racket too tightly or the knot in your neck from cradling the phone on your shoulder. What James and Hamilton have been plagued with is a different thing entirely.

The sweat test

Last fall in Sioux Falls, the 6-foot-10 Hamilton had trouble finishing games. In crunch time, his legs would lock up. Sometimes, a hamstring would go haywire. Another time, his quad would bite. Then his calf. Game after game, with a career in the balance.

Hamilton guzzled Gatorade and water before, during and after games. The nightstand by his bed was littered with empty water bottles. Cramps were caused by dehydration, right?

"All my life, I never had any cramps whatsoever, so I was wondering what was going on," Hamilton said. "I was just trying to figure it out because if you cramp, you can't play."

If Hamilton couldn't figure this out ...

"The possibilities were running through my head," Hamilton said. "Is something really wrong with me?"

For a fringe player trying to land an NBA gig, this is a life-changing problem. So he went to his coaching staff, led by coach Pat Delany in Sioux Falls, and told it he needed help. And a stroke of luck: One of the nation's top sports science facilities, Sanford School of Medicine, a branch of the University of South Dakota, was down the street.

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