LeBron could cough up Finals

MIAMI – After Spain had made a frantic comeback within two points of the United States, there came a telling moment in a fourth-quarter timeout. All hell breaking loose in the gold-medal game, Team USA was finally getting a fight in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. And from coaches to players, they could see LeBron James’(notes) eyes darting everywhere, his teeth grinding his finger nails. He wasn’t present, but lost in the magnitude of the moment.

One source called him “completely disengaged,” and this wasn’t a minority sentiment. As it turned out, Dwyane Wade(notes) played an immense part in bailing out James in the game’s final eight minutes, securing a gold-medal victory and sparing Team USA a loss that would’ve resonated far beyond, far longer, than these Miami Heat losing to the Dallas Mavericks.

LeBron James has totaled 11 points in the fourth quarters of the first five NBA Finals games.
(Getty Images)

This doesn’t happen every time James faces pressure, but it’s happened in the Olympics, the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals and it’s happened late in this NBA championship series.

Sometimes, James snaps out of it. Sometimes, he doesn’t. James doesn’t need more outside conflict, more distractions, and yet Wade dragged him into a beauty with the mocking video of them imitating Dirk Nowitzki coughing.

Wade introduced James into this foolery, but his running buddy gleefully entered the fray. Wade made it worse on Saturday, when he concocted the kind of cop-out he was tacitly charging Nowitzki with selling after a Game 4 victory.

Come out and say, yes, we were mocking him and so what? Or say, hey, it wasn’t our best moment and we regret it. Anything, but what Wade did on the eve of Game 6.

For Wade to call his an honest cough that evolved into a mugging for the cameras, because, “we knew you guys would blow it up,” is worse than the act itself. Wade couldn’t be more disingenuous on this matter, nor could the Heat deserve less sympathy for the treatment they consider so unfair.

Wade knew that video had gone viral, knew that question was coming, and somehow still tried to sell pure garbage. For the Heat’s sake, trailing 2-3 to Dallas in these NBA Finals, you’d hope he’ll prepare better for Game 6 than he did that self-inspired debacle.

The Heat can accuse the Mavericks of talking trash, but Wade and James understand this: Dallas’ stars, Nowitzki and Jason Kidd(notes), hadn’t spoken a disparaging word, and never would.

Still, the biggest reason that they were so emboldened to mock Nowitzki is Dirk is an NBA star belonging to a growing minority within the league, and it has nothing to do with European roots, the way those players get openly mocked and ridiculed as soft, unworthy of franchise star status.

Increasingly, there are two NBAs: the LeBron-CAA NBA, and everyone else.

James has been a part of recruiting everyone else over to his side – Wade, Chris Bosh(notes), Carmelo Anthony(notes), Chris Paul(notes). And now, the New Jersey NetsDeron Williams(notes) is strongly considering joining up with CAA after firing his longtime agent. Within the NBA, this surprised people because Williams had always been so fiercely independent. He never star-gazed James like most of his young teammates, and never seemed inclined to follow.

“LeBron has almost become a movement within the league,” says a league executive who’ll recruit these players in 2012. “With Worldwide Wes [CAA agent William Wesley] and him, you’re making a decision as a player to be packaged the way they packaged him. They follow him.”

James and Wade are taking this league over, and they’ll dominate the next several seasons. Their agents are determined to leverage that into complete control of the league’s elite, and LeBron’s figured out a way to profit, too.

The Washington’s Post Mike Wise reported on a James’ text message to an NBA player in free agency that said simply, “Yo, this is King James.” This is precisely how he has done it with the college players that he’s recruited for CAA and his marketing company, LRMR. This was a true a year ago when Y! Sports reported on it, and it’s still true now.

Dwyane Wade helped bail out James in the final minutes of the 2008 Olympic gold-medal game. He wasn't able to do so in Games 4 and 5 of the NBA Finals.
(Getty Images)

Two years ago, an All-American college player told his coach that James called him and the young player didn’t recognize the number.

“This is the King,” the voice said.

The kid was like, “Huh?”

“This is the King.”

Uh, who?

“King James.”

Oh, right.

Yes, LeBron’s taking over and all, but Dirk Nowitzki(notes) isn’t one of his acolytes, nor one of his fans. There’s a thirtysomething core of champions – Kobe Bryant(notes), Tim Duncan(notes), Kevin Garnett(notes), and so on – who don’t swoon in the King’s presence. They don’t want his marketing company, his agents, his style.

For now, Dirk wants to beat James and Wade, wants an NBA championship, and that’s part of the reason why the Heat’s stars are so openly willing to mock him.

Modern NBA history doesn’t offer many examples of the more talented team losing in the Finals, but it could happen this year. This should’ve been on Wade’s mind when he started playing the clown for cameras the afternoon of Game 5, dragging a willing James into a sideshow that he didn’t need now.

Three years ago, Wade bailed out James in a title game in Beijing, but this is different. When LeBron James stares into space, bites his nails and disengages late in another championship game, Wade won’t have Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard(notes) to help. And this isn’t Spain they’re trying to beat, but the tough, willful Mavericks of Dirk Nowitzki.

Feel free to mock Nowitzki, but when the fourth quarter comes on Sunday night, Dwyane Wade knows the superstars who can be counted upon, and knows the ones who’ve faked their way through this in the past.

Adrian Wojnarowski is the NBA columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Adrian a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Saturday, Jun 11, 2011