Have you ever been awakened at three in the morning with the thought that an Oompa Loompa is repeatedly stabbing you in the calf with his little tiny knife?
As you gather your senses, any relief you feel at the realization that you're not lost in some sick Willy Wonka world is overcome by the avalanche of pain from the cramping muscle. Because in that moment it makes perfect sense that the only possible cure to the excruciating tightness is to stretch more vigorously than you've ever stretched in your life, or be prepared to consider amputation.
Now imagine that pain locking down your entire left leg. And not for a mere thirty seconds, but for several minutes without relief. And not in the comfort of your own home where you're free to whimper, but in a cavernous arena with 20,000 fans raining boos down on you while millions more instantly flock to social media to lambast your supposed weakness.
That's exactly what happened to LeBron James on Thursday night in the 4th quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Now, it might seem strange to see a defense of James on a Spurs site in the midst of what is sure to be a gut-wrenching next couple of weeks for fans of both teams, but rest easy. That's not the purpose of this article.
In fact, I want to state that continued focus on James' struggles with cramping is a very good thing for the Spurs. Not the injury itself, mind you, but the distraction such an event brings. The cyclone sucks all the energy out of the room and most any attention away from the Spurs. But that's good for them, and it's just the way Gregg Popovich likes it.
Tune in to any sports show on TV or radio right now and all talk is about LeBron's struggle. The constant coverage is only interrupted by the discussion designed to determine just how pissed LeBron will be on Sunday night, and just how badly he will singlehandedly destroy the Spurs. Then, after the break, filled with Sprite commercials and continued pimping of the LeBron App, they're back to discuss the possibility that Gregg Popovich may or may not have cranked up the thermostat himself.
Then it's back to regularly scheduled programming where an expert panel is assembled to gauge the level of LeBron's pissed-offed-ness, and on a scale of 1-10, just how badly is he going to destroy every single Spur while avoiding Twitter and refusing to drink Gatorade?
From the Spurs' perspective, the situation is ideal. The wall-to-wall LeBron coverage and hundreds of thousands of words devoted to the possibility that LeBron might resort to chugging pickle juice as he unleashes his destruction on the city of San Antonio means that no attention is paid to the adjustments Popovich will make to slow Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade.
Few if any words are being written about the fact that the Spurs won Game 1 despite turning the ball over 22 times. No one is pointing out that in this year's playoffs, the Spurs usually have one really bad, turnover-filled game per series, and they got that out of the way in Game 1 while escaping with a win. Very few segments have featured the absolute dominance by Tim Duncan on Thursday night -- shooting 90% from the floor -- or how the Spurs baffled the Heat with a change in the timing of their passes on high pick and rolls. I've heard very little about Tiago Splitter's bounce back game, the monster dunk he had that wasn't blocked by LeBron, or the block that he himself made on a James attempt.
I'm waiting for the Bill Simmons column or OTL feature that breaks down Manu Ginobili's historic performance in Game 1. (No player in the history of the NBA has had a better statistical night coming off the bench in an NBA Final's game since Michael Cooper 32 years ago.) Oh, and Ginobili was the only player on either team that played the entire fourth quarter despite the fact he turns 37 next month. Because after all, those feats and facts are second to discussing how many times Chris Bosh had to get up to urinate on Friday night.
By now we all know how the cycle works.
1. Superstar attention-magnet suffers setback.
2. Critics, professional and otherwise, pounce.
3. Ubiquitous discussion about the validity of said critics.
4. Realization that said critics have really, really, upset aforementioned superstar.
5. Preparations made for the mass destruction that superstar will unleash and vivid descriptions of the scorched earth that's coming are painted by those covering such events in an epic display of media one-upmanship.
6. Discuss the world we live in today.
7. Lament the world we live in today and question how we got here.
8. Reflect on things that we could do as a society to be better, starting with not overreacting to every event and attention-magnet.
9. Implement newfound zen and approach to life just as the next event is set to begin.
10. Repeat cycle.
For the Spurs, all the above works just fine. No one notices there's another group of champions that will have their say as to how exactly this series plays out. Few see the team on the opposite end of the court, just as desperate and focused on winning, regardless of how angry LeBron James is at the current moment. It might frustrate fans, but the Spurs are basking in their anonymity.
Popovich is just fine with the rest of the world pontificating about broken air conditioners and bathroom breaks and not paying any attention to the Spurs. In fact, in a perfect world, a new set of crises will emerge on Sunday night that take any remaining attention away from his team.
And if so, Popovich with an unrecognizable smile, will continue to lurk in the shadows. Just where he and his Spurs feel most comfortable.