LEBRON JAMES WAS being publicly shamed.
It was the night of Dec. 5, 2015, and the Cavs trailed by 20 points in the fourth quarter of the most highly anticipated matchup of the season: James against his former team, the Miami Heat. The Golden State Warriors had opened the season with the greatest start in NBA history at 20-0. The Cavs had stumbled into Miami with two consecutive losses to drop their record to 13-6. Still, James sat quietly on the Cavs' bench in a striped tee and navy blazer as giggly Heat fans in AmericanAirlines Arena chanted, "Le-BRON is TI-red!" like bullies at a schoolyard.
The backdrop was even bleaker for James.
James was clad in street clothes, not because he was injured. He had been deemed healthy by the training staff. But then-head coach David Blatt had other plans: Thanks to the grueling NBA schedule, James would not play.
It wasn't just that this was the dreaded second game of a back-to-back. The NBA's schedule-makers had called for the Cavs to play less than 24 hours before in New Orleans for a 9:30 p.m Eastern tip-off, then fly eastward for two hours across a time zone to land in South Florida. After the Cavs had forced overtime against the Pelicans, the Cavs had sauntered off their team plane and into their Miami hotel rooms just before 5 a.m., the day of the Heat game.
With sleep on short supply, Blatt had made the call for James to sit, marking the first time in James' career that he missed a game because of rest before Christmas.
"Very short turnaround," Blatt explained before the game. "Just thinking long term here."