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When the Finals got hot before: Game 5, 1984, Bird vs. Magic in “heat game”

Jun 6, 2014, 10:48 AM EST

SAN ANTONIO — It was hot, temperatures above 90 degrees, in the AT&T Center for Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals. LeBron James cramped up, the Heat players wilted and San Antonio went on a 26-9 run to end the game and win Game 1.

It was wild — but it was not unprecedented.

Thirty years ago almost to the day, June 8, 1984, the Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in what became known as “the heat game.” It was reportedly 97 degrees in the old Boston Garden— a building that didn’t have air conditioning in it (why would you need that in an arena also used for hockey?). Boston was suffering through a heat wave and that made the building sweltering, more so that what the Heat and Spurs faced Thursday night.

The enduring image of 2014’s Game 1 is LeBron James being carried off the court with cramps. The enduring image out of  1984 comes at the 3:44 mark of the video above: a 37-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with the oxygen mask over his face, sucking in air as he tries to get rested and back on the court.

“I suggest,” Abdul-Jabbar said after the game (via NBA.com), “that you go to a local steam bath, do 100 pushups with all your clothes on, then try to run back and forth for 48 minutes. The game was in slow motion. It was like we were running in mud.”

It was so hot referee Hugh Evans had to stop at halftime due to dehydration, reported Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe.

The 1984 NBA Finals was the one everyone had been waiting for, finally Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were going to square off on the NBA’s biggest stage (it was David Stern’s first Finals as commissioner, he certainly lucked into a lot of things early in his tenure). The series didn’t disappoint, going seven games (with Bird and the Celtics ultimately prevailing, the first salvo in the great rivalry of the 1980s).

Bird owned Game 5 — 34 points on 15-of-20 shooting, plus grabbing 17 boards. And like the Spurs after Game 1 this year (with Tony Parker saying it felt like a European gym and Tim Duncan saying it was like the Virgin Islands where he grew up) Bird said after the game he was used to this.

“I play in this stuff all the time back home. It’s like this all summer.”

(As a side note pointed out by my boss Rick Cordella, maybe the most classic part of the above video is near the end, at the 6:15 mark, when a guy just lights up a cigarette in the building as the fans celebrate, Mad Men style. That was just a different era.)

Stuff happens in an NBA Finals. Unexpected stuff. What matters is who adapts, who adjusts, who just finds a way to play through that and win.

In 1984 that was Larry Bird and the Celtics.

Thirty years later round one goes to the Spurs.

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