Rod Thorn, President of Basketball operations for the NBA and apparently a medical expert as well, said of the first game of the NBA championship series: “It was the same for both teams.” It being the heat. The air conditioning at San Antonio’s AT&T Center failed last night causing the temperature on the court to rise above 90 degrees F. He went on to say that the referees could have stopped the game if they thought that conditions were unsafe. Evidently he thinks they too are medical experts.
As far as I could tell the conditions courtside were unsafe. And the players were at risk of heat injury which at its worst is lethal. I have previously written about heat injury. The conditions that prevailed last night in San Antonio were not the same for everyone, as Thorn declaimed, as each person varies in his susceptibility to heat injury.
Acclimation to heat is important in preventing this injury. Before exercising in the heat, athletes must be in good physical condition. They also need to give their bodies time to adjust to warmer temperatures. This quotation is from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons web article on heat injury and heat exhaustion. This is one of their recommendations – Gradually increase activity in the heat over a period of 7 to 10 days to allow adequate acclimatization.
Professional basketball players are obviously highly conditioned athletes, but they are not heat acclimated as they practice and play in temperature controlled environments. It is football players who are most at risk for heat injury as “fall” practice starts in August when the temperature is apt to be very high. Asking athletes who are not heat acclimated to exercise to their maximum in 90 degree plus temperatures is risking their health. Lebon James’ heat injury last night was not an unexpected event. I hope he did not suffer anything more than heat cramps, but some degree of rhabdomyolysis is possible. The conditions last night in San Antonio were not safe.
The NBA put their players at a major risk to their health yesterday. That they did so out of ignorance rather than malice is no excuse.
The world cup is to start in Brazil next June 12; football (football for most of the world, soccer for USA) players (anywhere from switzerland to England, Bosnia to Cameroon) will be exposed to very elevated temperatures for at least 90 minutes, in a non (temperature) controlled environment, with different heat, humidity, altitude conditions as they may have to play in 3 different cities in 2 weeks; games are scheduled between 13 to 19 hrs (local time), also, of concern, the world cup is to be organized in Qatar next 2022 in the month of July, where temperatures ranges between 106-116 during the day. As an interesting point, to my knowledge, there has not been a case of fatal or disabling case of heat stroke among elite footballers in history.
Korey Stringer who played for the Minnesota Vikings died of heat stroke on August 1, 2001. He was an elite footballer, though perhaps not of the type you had in mind.
“From 1999 to 2010, a total of 7,415 deaths in the United States, an average of 618 per year, were associated with exposure to excessive natural heat. The highest yearly total of heat-related deaths (1,050) was in 1999 and the lowest (295) in 2004. Approximately 68% of heat-related deaths were among males.”
I am aware of those deaths in american football, and thank you for the references, but what I noted interesting was that among soccer players or lets arbitrarily call it: the non american football (whose players are called footballers in England -Bobby Moore for instance has a statue in London as the best footballer of England at Wembley stadium- and outside USA), there have not been any documented cases of exertional heat strokes among elite players, in fact, as I follow this sport (soccer for you) and not being aware of a single case in the past, I just found the abstract to the article from Brisish Journal of sports Medicine as of relevant importance for this particular matter:
With my comment above I am not suggesting that one sport is superior to the other, but simply an observation that should have a good explanation.
The likely explanation is that they (footballers) are heat acclimated when they play in hot climates. It takes about two weeks of gradually increasing exercise in a hot environment to become heat acclimated. They also do not wear bulky uniforms and are more or less of normal human size and stature unlike (American) football and basketball players. Lebron James who succumbed to the first stage of heat injury is 6′ 8″ and weighs more than 250 pounds making him especially vulnerable to heat injury.