Go ahead and hate LeBron James.
It seems like the thing to do if you like any NBA team other than the Heat.
Hey, I get it. The guy spurned a hard-luck sports city in the most distasteful of ways. Taking his talents to South Beach? Who says stuff like that?
In Oklahoma City, the disdain has only grown. LeBron has become the face of the franchise that poses the biggest roadblock to NBA gold for the hometown team. We may know just how big a block after Sunday night's game.
Add in his Twitter-fueled spat with Kendrick Perkins, and LeBron tops the public enemy list.
But before you bring out the torches and pitchforks, you might want to hear this story about LeBron, a layover in Oklahoma City and a run-in with some servicemen.
Three weeks ago, the Heat left Miami for a three-game West Coast swing.
First stop: Portland.
That's a 2,700-mile trip, but it's a flight that most planes make without stopping to refuel.
But on the day that the Heat headed west, the headwinds were stronger than normal. The team plane was going to use more fuel than usual, so a refueling stop would be necessary.
Turns out, Oklahoma City was that stopping point.
Refueling a massive airplane takes time, so according to an airport worker who witnessed the entire scene, the players got off the jet and went inside the general aviation terminal at Will Rogers World Airport. Some lounged in chairs. Others stretched their legs. Most stayed in their own little world.
He noticed a couple of uniformed military personnel approach the team's security person. Unbeknown to him, about a dozen helicopters were stopped there for fuel as well. There were Blackhawks and Apaches and Chinooks, all on long-distance flights. Will Rogers happened to be their refueling stop.
Just like the Heat players, the helicopter pilots were in the terminal stretching their legs.
They never expected the Miami Heat to walk through the door.
Some of them wanted pictures with the players, but when the crew members approached the team's security detail, they were told no.
Maybe LeBron could overhear the conversation, or perhaps he could just tell by their body language what was going on. Either way, he piped up.
“Hey, hey,” he said, “any of these military guys can take a picture with us.”
He turned to his teammates.
“You guys get up,” he told them.
He turned to the servicemen.
“Get your camera up,” he said.
He started to wave the servicemen over but noticed that some of the players weren't yet on their feet.
“Hey, everybody get up,” he said. “Get in a circle here. Anybody that wants their picture taken with us, we'll do it.”
And that's exactly what they did. Any of the four or five dozen helicopter crewmen who wanted a photo got one. Not all of them did, but LeBron and his teammates posed with each and every one of them who asked.
When those pilots and crewmen walked out of the terminal and back across the tarmac, they had big ol' smiles on their faces.
“Can you believe that?” they asked each other. “Who would've ever thought?”
Maybe they meant who would've thought they'd run into the Miami Heat at the Oklahoma City airport.
But maybe they meant, “Who would've ever thought LeBron would be so cool?”
It would've been so easy for a superstar like that to ignore those military men. No one would've ever known that he turned a blind eye to their request.
But that's not what he did. One of the biggest villains in sports did something nice for some of the folks who have volunteered to protect and defend our country's freedom. It wasn't for publicity. It wasn't a big deal for those players. But for those helicopter crews who may one day put themselves in harm's way, it is something they'll always relish.
So, go ahead and hate LeBron if you must.
I'm just not sure he seems like such a bad guy anymore.