MIAMI — Being a three-time NBA champion of the Miami Heat, there’s a level of cachet that follows and it would be easy to fall victim to entitlement. One scene during the second-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers highlighted Udonis Haslem’s egoless mentality.
Toward the end of a timeout with one minute remaining before players had to take the court again, four Heat starters had already left the bench. Bam Adebayo was the lone starter still resting in his seat.
Haslem went over and extended his hand to lift Adebayo up. The big man just stayed sitting, staring into space. Haslem kept his hand extended for the entire minute until Adebayo finally reached out his hand and was ready to get up. Haslem pulled him up and said, “Go get their ass.”
Most players aren’t holding their hand out for a full minute for anyone, especially with the way social media has a field day with moments like these.
Haslem has mastered his role of being the supporting cast at any cost.
“Winning this conference finals is my priority right now,” Haslem told Yahoo Sports. “Bam has had an amazing season, and we’ve got eight undrafted players on this team. Those guys are just like me. We’re winning. I’m impacting the younger generation. That’s it. That’s my gift.”
The Heat lifer wakes up for his challenge each morning. But before he faces that task, Haslem must beat his teammates to the arena.
Once at the arena and settled, he awaits his team’s arrival. The 18-year veteran already has a plan and a target. Depending on how the last game ended, Haslem might serve as a compassionate brother or a trash-talking brute with the objective to issue some tough love to a few specific individuals on any given day during a practice session.
For a player who has played in a total of only 58 games in the last six seasons, Haslem takes his regular DNP-CD status as a challenge. He still puts in the work as if he’s a full-time starter. If he can’t crack the rotation, a notion he refuses to fully accept, he wants to help elevate the games of his teammates in order to prove his value.
The daily challenge is how can one impact winning when one’s number isn’t being called.
“The only shift is that I’m not getting the minutes on the court,” Haslem told Yahoo Sports. “But it still keeps my competitive fire, my juices flowing and it still keeps me young and still keeps me active. So, it’s a two-way street. Just like I’m preparing them, they’re preparing me. It’s not so much 30, 45 minutes a game, but it’s moments when I’m called upon to come out there. And it might be impactful moments and I need to be ready for those. Those are the moments I prepare for. Also I cherish getting these guys prepared. I take it personal to help them perform and the way they go out there and do their jobs.
“If they’re not prepared, I’m taking my notes on what we need to work on. For me, this is full-time job, bro. No days off. Even when it’s summer time, I’ll just take a week off and then I’m right back in the lab, in the weight room, in the gym, conditioning. My body has to stay right. That’s the most important thing for me is that my body has allowed me to be able to keep up with these guys.”
At 41, he remains in tip-top physical shape. Most veterans who get up there in age have a tendency to let their bodies go and it’s visibly noticeable if you compare them to a picture 10 years prior.
Haslem chooses to lead by example, but he also says it plays a role in how his voice is received.
“I gotta keep up, man,” Haslem told Yahoo Sports. “They’re not going to listen to me if I can’t walk the walk. That’s just real talk. They’re not gonna listen. If I can’t walk the walk and I’m sitting up there all fat and out of shape talking about, ‘Go do this, go do that,’ nobody wants to hear that. I think I get the impact and I get the results because I’m in the trenches, in the mud with them every day and I show them and I do it. It’s the same grind, dawg. I’m outside in the sun, in that Florida heat with all that humidity getting it in. I’m pushing sleds, weights, running and just getting it in, bro. I’m not barking orders from a pedestal. I’ll do it first, and I’ll do it five times just for you to do it once. And they see that. That’s my commitment to them, this team and this organization. That’s my ‘why.’ ”
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra says Haslem is a professional by the true definition of the word.
“You can’t ask for a better, selfless leader to still be engaged and helps better our program,” Spoelstra told Yahoo Sports. “He’s all about how can he best help the team. Players think they’re willing to do whatever it takes until they’re asked to sacrifice. UD optimizes what a true winner is in every regard.”
The Heat and Boston Celtics are tied at two games apiece in the Eastern Conference finals. Game 5 is 8:30 p.m. ET Wednesday in Miami.
Haslem hasn’t logged a single minute in these playoffs, but Adebayo says his imprint is all over this series.
“How he helps prepare me for battle is unreal,” Adebayo told Yahoo Sports. “He’s been through it all and seen it all. And in practice, he’s one of the strongest guys you’ll face. That can’t do nothing but get me better. You have to pay attention when he’s talking because you know it’s coming from a place of wanting to see us all reach our heights.”
How much longer can Haslem play? He said he hasn’t yet made a decision on if he’ll retire at the end of this season. If he does retire, he won’t be joining the coaching ranks because he said they spend more time in a gym than any player.
“I owe my family my time and I plan to be a part of an NBA ownership group,” Haslem told Yahoo Sports. “That’s what I see down the road.”
And if there is still a wonder why Haslem is so important to the success of this team, he lays out his objective for anyone adjusting to a diminished role.
“It’s not easy. It’s never easy because I’m a competitor and I can still contribute,” Haslem told Yahoo Sports. “But you know, I understand that there’s a bigger picture here. Being such a competitor, I just want to find a way to win. So if you’re going to take me out of the game, I’m going to find a way to win from the bench. I don’t like to lose, man. It was some dark nights. As a competitor, you’re trying to figure it out because you’re not getting in the game and you don’t understand why you’re putting in the work and things are not going in your favor. There’s definitely some dark nights and frustrations. But man, ultimately, I’m a winner.
“I’ve never been given anything, so this is just another challenge, another thing in front of me, another wall, another barrier. So I was like, ‘What are you going to do, bro?’ Well, I figured out how to impact winning from all angles: from a starter, from the bench, from a guy coming off the bench. One year I was second-up to Sixth Man of the Year, and then I came back and was a guy who very rarely played, but I’ve impacted winning. In the bubble, we went to the Finals and I didn’t touch a foot on the floor but maybe twice. But I impact winning. So I think people get it confused about what my job is because I don’t play. My job is to win, that’s it. It’s as simple as that. It’s not how you want me to do it, but it doesn’t matter. I still do it. I do it pretty damn good, too. That’s all I care about. When these guys leave Miami, I tell them all the time, whether you play in this organization or play for another organization, you’re going to be prepared. I bet you that. I don’t give a damn where you go from here. You’ll be prepared. Now, it’s up to you.”
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