MIAMI -- You have to give LeBron James credit. No, you really do. This is a guy who knows the world outside of South Florida doesn't like him, or didn't like him after The Decision. Maybe the world likes him now, or is trying to get there again. It could go either way.
And LeBron doesn't care.
It's almost like he wants you to despise him. So you know what? Go ahead. Give him what he wants.
Maybe you missed the latest, where LeBron and his partner in dumb, Dwyane Wade, mocked Dirk Nowitzki for daring to be sick during the NBA Finals. That twosome was caught on video walking around the Mavericks' home arena -- Dirk's house -- with shirts over their faces, coughing, asking each other, "Did you hear me cough?"
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And when I say they were "caught," that's not really accurate. They weren't busted. They walked out of their locker room Thursday, saw the cameras, and on cue broke into the Walking Flu act. It was choreographed, obviously.
And they did it again Saturday, when the media found the time and place to ask James and Wade -- and also Nowitzki, who was understandably put off -- about the video. James and Wade met the media individually, each spending roughly 10 minutes in front of cameras. Wade was asked 15 questions. James was asked 11.
Both players coughed while listening to one question, and only one question. You know which question.
James went even farther. As the question unfolded and he heard the magic words about "a video circulating that's gathering buzz," James sniffed loudly. Then he grabbed his shirt and pulled it over his face. Then he turned and coughed.
You see what's happening, right? James and Wade think they have this inside joke, this secret little gag that nobody else is smart enough to pick up on. Then when the world does pick up on it -- because they're just not that clever -- they get defensive.
After sniffling and covering his face and coughing, James refused to answer the question about mocking Nowitzki.
"I'm not feeding into that," he said. "If you guys want to feed into everything [we] do ... I think that's a non-issue. There's bigger issues in this series than that."
Sure there are. LeBron's shrinkage is one. Wade's latest injury and heroic comeback in Game 5 (has anyone ever been hurt more and recovered faster than this immortal?) is another. The Heat flopping like flounders, begging for bogus foul calls, is another. We could go on and on about the bigger issues in this series, but James and Wade served themselves up on a platter by mocking the best player in this series.
Yet they seem shocked, shocked, that we sit down and have a meal.
Here's what Wade said, when he wasn't coughing up a lung, about mocking Nowitzki:
"First of all," he said, "it wasn't fake coughing. I actually did cough. And with the cameras being right there, we made a joke out of it because we knew you guys were going to blow it up. You did exactly what we knew. We never said Dirk's name. I think he's not the only one in the world who can get sick or have a cough. We just had fun with the cameras being right in our face about the blowup of the incident, and it held to be true. You blew it up."
We never said Dirk's name.
To quote Rick Carlisle in his Game 4 smack-down of a butt-kissing question, "Who is this guy?"
The thing is, James could be a sympathetic figure. Lord knows the country bought into that after Game 3, when one brave soul asked him about his poor play in the fourth quarter in the first three games. The country decided the guy asking the question was a jerk, and the country was right. The reporter was a jerk -- it was a legitimate question, but it was phrased unnecessarily confrontationally. After gutting the questioner with a scalpel and a smile, James had public sentiment on his side. He blew it, of course, by validating the question with his indisputable Game 4 shrinkage and then with a Game 5 triple-double of Mini-Me proportions, capped by an invisible fourth quarter.
And now this. Mocking someone on the Mavericks. And listen, there are Mavericks to be mocked, and nobody would mind. Cocky Jason Terry, saying James couldn't guard him for 48 minutes? Kooky DeShawn Stevenson, jabbing James with a stick every chance he gets? Those guys are begging to be mocked, and even the most ardent Mavericks fan would understand. What comes around, goes around.
But mocking Nowitzki? Him? He's the nicest guy on the floor, and he's playing with a torn tendon in a finger, and he played Game 4 with a 101-degree fever. And Nowitzki has downplayed both issues, saying the injury and the illness would have no bearing before the games even began.
When he was asked Saturday about being mocked, Nowitzki also had a physical reaction, though he didn't theatrically cough as James and Wade had. He smiled. Broke into a big ol' grin, just for a second, then swallowed it.
Then he devoured James and Wade in eight words, speaking as he has been scoring. Efficiently. Brutally.
"It was a little childish," Nowitzki said. "A little ignorant."
Childish fits, seeing how James is Peter Pan, living in a make-believe world where sycophants kiss his ass. He never grew up, and maybe never will. Sadly, classy Dwyane Wade hasn't been a good influence on James. Nope. James is dragging Wade down to his level. They're Peter Pan and Tinkerbell.
These are your best players, Miami Heat fans. This is your team. You damn well better like them.
Who else could?