A Matter of Heart: Udonis Haslem

Posted by C.L. Anthony on Saturday, May 21, 2011 with No comments
For a moment it seemed as if I was looking at perfection, for the first time this season Miami Heat fans were able to see the dream lineup of Dwyane Wade, Mike Miller, Lebron James, Udonis Haslem, and Chris Bosh.  This was the lineup that had been talked about since the inception of this current Heat team as the one that would be the team's most potent.  The lineup was put on hold at the beginning of the season with the freak training camp thumb injury to Mike Miller and then as Miller was preparing to return, the Heart and Soul of the team, Udonis Haslem went down with a freak foot injury.  The two former college roommates at the University of Florida had waited almost a decade for the chance to play together once again and it finally came to fruition this past Wednesday evening, 96 games into the current season. Both of the former Gators gave the Heat's much maligned bench a boost by matching the Bulls intensity and snatching rebounds, just by playing with the energy that they've both displayed throughout their NBA careers but it was Haslem who changed the tide of the game and perhaps saved the Miami Heat's season.

Watching the Heat struggle in game 1 to collect rebounds and being outworked by the Chicago Bulls revealed many things that at times during the regular reason was masked by the greatness of the Big Three; the Heat were still soft on the inside.  All I could think during game 1 was "Why on earth isn't Udonis in the game?"  Lets be honest here, the Heat have bigs and a lot of them but sans one all of those bigs are extremely close to being card carrying members of the AARP.  The Bulls bigs were just more active, more dominate in game 1 and then in game 2 it seemed as if the struggles would happen again.  The Heat's energy level just didn't match the energy that the Bulls were launching at them......and then it happened!

Heat fans rejoiced at the fact that Udonis was one of the largest factors in the Heat defeating the Bulls in game 2 and snatching away the home court advantage, but true Heat fans appreciated the journey, the man, the heart.  We appreciated the sight of Heat owner Micky Arison  embracing Haslem after the game, we appreciate the dream lineup that may very well be championship defining, and we appreciate the man with Florida roots who's twice taken a pay cut to fulfill championship dreams with the Miami Heat.  It is possible to be the most important player to a team and not be that team's most talented player and Haslem is that guy.  Like Thunder Dan Majerle, PJ Brown, Brian Grant, and Alonzo Mourning, Udonis Haslem bleeds Miami Heat; he will stand up and die for Florida, the place of his birth which is burned into his soul, his skin.

U who?

Hard work was never lacking from the life of Udonis Haslem, after spending four years playing at the University of Florida where he ranks third in points scored "1,782", Haslem played for the √Član Sportif Chalonnais, a French professional basketball team.  It was there while averaging 16.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game that Haslem lost around 70 pounds after his weight had reached a point of 300 pounds.  The Miami Heat signed Haslem after a strong summer league showing in the summer of 2003 after they had already drafted a rookie by the name of Dwyane Wade.  Wade was that season's starting point guard while Haslem became to the backup to Lamar Odom and Brian Grant, but he supplied the necessary energy and defense needed from the bench and along with Wade was invited to the Rookie Challenge during All Star Weekend.  After becoming the starting power forward during the 04/05 season, Haslem turned down offers of $10 million dollars extra than what the Heat had offered for him to stay home. His sacrafice was appreciated, he knew he'd done the right thing because he knew that the Miami Heat were adding pieces for another championship run by using the extra money after being defeated in the Eastern Conference Finals the previous season by the Detroit Pistons.  The pay cut paid off as the Heat went on to defeat the Dallas Mavericks in the 05/06 season for the NBA championship with Haslem slowing down Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki considerably.    

Could history repeat itself?  

The summer of 2010 was dubbed the summer of the Decision but after the Heat completed sign and trades for Lebron James and Chris Bosh and resigned Dwyane Wade, the next form of business was the resigning of Udonis Haslem.  The Big Three all took paycuts so the Heat could sign additional talent such as Haslem and Mike Miller.  Swayed by the commitment of the Big Three Haslem again took a pay cut of about $10 million by rejecting offers from the Dallas Mavericks and the Denver Nuggets to stay at home.  All seemed well until Nov 21st 2010 when Haslem went down with a torn ligament in his left foot.  The Miami Heat held out hope but knew that Haslem would be out for months, as the season continued with no sight of Haslem some wondered if he'd return at all during this current season.  The Heat finished the season with 58 wins but the team was never complete the enitre year with injuries to both Miller and Haslem.  How many games would the Heat had won if Haslem hadn't missed three fourths of the season?  No one knows for sure but I would guess that the Heat would have acquired a few more wins.  Will another sacrifice by Haslem and others lead to another championship? 

"It's been difficult not knowing when my number is going to be called, but I just stayed focused. I continued to work every day with Coach Askins. The coaching staff has been patient with me. My teammates have been patient with me."  Udonis Haslem

......and then it happened!  When Udonis Haslem was inserted during game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the game and perhaps the series swung from the Chicago Bulls to the Miami Heat.  23 minutes, I repeat 23 minutes for a guy who'd just played 7 minutes in the six months prior to Wednesday's game, 23 minutes of grit, great defense, and heart.  That man, UD, or as Eric Reid can poetically say "The Captain" showed up and saved his franchise, his city, his state from the dreaded 0-2 deficit.  He simply outworked the Bulls front line fighting for his five rebounds each one larger than the last and dropping 13 points along with two jaw dropping, awe inspiring dunks that knocked the Bulls back on their heels.  Even as his assignment drew to close and he ran out of gas before our eyes, the statement was made, the line was drawn in the sand as the Miami Heat looked at the Bulls and said top this!  After the game, for the first time in his career Haslem was able to speak to the media with no other teammates as he was the star of the show; as he spoke one phrase stood out, it was a phrase so powerful that I sent it out to the Twitter-verse.  He said simply:

"No Rebounds, No Rings."  

I'm sure after game 2 that some of the millions of new "fans" the Heat Nation picked up after the Decision didn't know who Udonis was or understand the magnitude of his contributions to the Heat organization over his 8 year career.  Heart and Soul is a phrase that's used all too often in sports but the one case where it's appropriate is with Udonis Haslem.  Often overlooked and at time unappreciated by most of those outside of south Florida, Udonis Haslem represents the Miami Heat way, the Pat Riley way, just as Alonzo Mourning and countless others did before him.  There's no doubt in my mind that once his career is over, Haslem's number 40 will hang in the rafters next to number 10, number 33, and one day number 3.  With the return of Haslem the Miami Heat are finally complete, ready to complete their championship journey but it's not just about points with Haslem, it's a matter of heart and perhaps his is the most respected on the team.