If you plan to watch tonight's Miami Heat NBA Finals home opener against the San Antonio Spurs, you might notice a curious sight down in the fourth row of Section 116.
It will be one of South Florida's weirdest media sensations: Little Birdman.
Yeah, 11-year-old Gianni Zandri will again likely be the most popular kid at the NBA Finals. You might remember him. He was adorable in a Mohawk, dozens of tattoos drawn on with Sharpies, and a replica Heat jersey of Chris "Birdman" Andersen. Last year, he made good buddies with LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Ray Allen before the Heat invited him to the locker room to hold the Larry O'Brien trophy. More recently, the kid has become, like, best buddies with rappers Big Black and Vanilla Ice.
His dad, David Zandri, a marketing exec from Naples, paid $2,500 for two seats to tonight's game. He says it all started last season when his boy got the idea to shave his head into a Mohawk -- and then an artist spent 4.5 hours drawing replicas of Birdman's copious tattoos. "My son did it all just to get a simple picture with him," David recalls. "I thought, Wouldn't it be cute!"
The kid began making headlines during game six of last year's finals. Shaquille O'Neal invited him onto the court. "Shaq took a selfie with him and sent it out to all his Twitter followers. He said, 'I am hanging with Baby Birdman.' "
Later Gianni met LeBron James' mother, Gloria, who fell in love. After the game, at 3 a.m., Gloria James took father and son to the Heat parking garage, where the boy had his picture taken with King James himself.
Little Birdman likely won't have the chance to take his buddy, Kaia Bush, to the game. Earlier this year -- and dad has evidence -- Kaia persuaded boxer Floyd Mayweather to take a selfie with her and Little Birdman. "I have a picture of [Mayweather] holding the pink cell phone," David says. "Perfect."
With luck, Little Birdman will repeat his greatest achievement of last year. After the Heat won the championship, the then-10-year-old talked his way into the Heat locker room, stayed for half an hour, and emerged with a picture on his cell phone: Little Birdman holding the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship trophy. Then he and his dad drove the 120 miles home, smiling all the way.
So why is this father spending all of this time and money on the tattoos, the getup, and the big-buck seats? "I lost my dad a few years back," he says. "So I know our time together is precious.
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