Udonis Haslem averaged 7.5 points and 6.6 rebounds in his career. He never made an All-Star team. Never had a triple-double. Never signed anything close to a max contract. Never even won a player of the week award.
The stats might seem ordinary.
Yet to the Miami Heat, he’s forever legendary.
The Miami native, who spent his entire 20-year career with the Heat — part of three championship teams and serving as captain in 16 of his seasons — watched his now-retired No. 40 jersey raised to the rafters on Friday night, the culmination of a career that saw him go from undrafted to virtually unmatched.
He’s one of only three players who spent a career of 20 years or more with one franchise. Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant are the others.
“You all got the money on me crying, don’t y’all? I know you all think I’m going to cry,” Haslem said. “Yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard. It’s hard. Heat Nation, it’s been an absolute honor, man.”
And then he stopped to wipe his eyes, evidently welling with tears behind the sunglasses he wore inside a darkened arena. He was too emotional to read the remarks he prepared so he went off the top of his head, thanking virtually every member of the organization, his family and former teammates.
Haslem also paid tribute to all of Miami — area code 305.
“You’ve got to hold up the 305,” he said. “Tonight, we all celebrate, 305.”
Haslem, who would like to eventually join the Heat ownership group and currently works for the team as a vice president of player development, is the sixth player to get a jersey retired by the Heat. The others: Chris Bosh (No. 1), Dwyane Wade (No. 3), Tim Hardaway (No. 10), Shaquille O’Neal (No. 32) and Alonzo Mourning (No. 33).
Haslem’s won’t be the last; the Heat have already said they will eventually retire No. 6 for LeBron James. The five previous retired-jersey recipients by the Heat are already in the Basketball Hall of Fame. And Heat President Pat Riley said Haslem’s legacy should be celebrated as well.
“Udonis Haslem, his force mattered and it counted,” Riley said. “And that’s one of the reasons why we’re hanging his jersey here today. … Udonis Haslem is going to leave a very big footprint.”
There were many gifts: a $50,000 check to his foundation from the Heat charitable fund, a commemorative jersey, a replica of the retirement banner — and three new seats in the arena in honor of Haslem’s late father, mother and stepmother.
Haslem — the franchise’s all-time rebounding leader — was the NBA’s oldest active player at 43 when he retired after last season. He also became the oldest player to appear in an NBA Finals game, doing so two days before his 43rd birthday when the Heat played the Nuggets last year in the title round.
He played in a total of 65 regular-season games over his last seven NBA seasons, and some pundits often questioned why Haslem was still an active player. The Heat laughed at such criticism, insisting that Haslem’s value in the locker room, on the practice court and as a mentor was invaluable.
“He spent 20 years with one organization and helped everyone he could for those 20 years,” said Goran Dragic, one of the many former teammates who was at Friday’s ceremony. “He deserves this.”
Added Heat center Bam Adebayo, who succeeded Haslem as Miami’s captain this season: “He was the glue. A lot of people get lost in the stats, who averages the most, but he was the glue for everybody. … And I feel like the glue guys are the most important guys on a team.”
Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley said he wished he could have been at the ceremony, just to pay tribute to Haslem’s toughness and what he meant to the league.
“I think it just goes to show the impact that you can have on an organization, on a community, on the players around you when you don’t make it about you,” Mosley said. “And I think he’s embodied that more than anyone. It’s about the ‘Heat Culture,’ it’s about who he is, it’s about him in the community and Dade County. It’s who he is.”
There are larger-than-life reminders everywhere in the arena that the Heat call home about what Haslem did in his 20 years. There are photos of him holding NBA championship trophies, photos of him with a stream of blood coming from his temple after a playoff dust-up against Indiana, photos of him dumping a Gatorade bucket over Heat coach Erik Spoelstra’s head to celebrate a title.
“The Miami Heat organization, we will not only always celebrate his legacy, but we’ll educate people on his legacy,” Spoelstra said. “And his legacy is important to the league as well. My hope is this gets acknowledged and recognized throughout the league … so this new generation of younger players can understand what being an all-time winner can look like.”
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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