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.