Udonis Haslem may have never become an NBA All-Star, but this should never discount the impact that he has made on the Miami Heat over the past two decades.
The 43-year-old Haslem fell out of Miami’s rotation following the ‘14-’15 campaign, also known as the season after LeBron James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers, yet his veteran presence has helped pass on #HeatCulture from their title winning teams to the present.
Despite going undrafted in the 2002 NBA Draft, Haslem found his way to the Heat’s roster a year later and has not looked back since. He made his NBA debut in the ‘03-’04 campaign which was so long ago that this year’s first overall pick Victor Wembanyama was not even born when that season tipped off.
Haslem is the only other player aside from franchise icon Dwyane Wade who was a part of Miami’s three NBA champion teams. Haslem was the full-time starter at power forward during their 2006 title run with Shaquille O’Neal, playing the role of the energetic frontcourt sidekick to the aging Hall of Fame center.
The 6’8 Haslem remained with the Heat in the post-O’Neal years, but was never the same in the wake of a foot injury that sidelined him for the majority of the ‘10-’11 season. He was 30 years old at that time and lost much of his athleticism upon his return. However, his ever consistent midrange jumper and vocal leadership allowed him to remain an asset to Miami.
Haslem still managed to play a crucial role on the Heat’s 2012 and 2013 championship teams as a role player next to their infamous “Big Three” of James, Wade, and Chris Bosh. Eventually, he was eased out of the rotation in ‘15-’16 to give way to younger players such as Justise Winslow whose development was a priority for Miami at the time.
The Florida native began re-signing with the Heat on one-year deals beginning the next season and wound up with an astounding seven of them. He had publicly contemplated retirement in 2019, but decided otherwise just a few months later. Upon Vince Carter’s decision to retire a year later, Haslem, then 40 years old, became the league’s oldest player and held on to this title for three years until he made his own announcement this week.
Miami’s beloved elder statesman actually telegraphed that this past season would be his last one back in the summer of 2022 which allowed the team to pay tribute to him over the course of the campaign. This culminated in their regular season finale where he put up a vintage performance, scoring 24 points to lead the Heat to a 123-110 win against the Orlando Magic.
It was quite a historic game for Haslem as he became only the second player to score at least 24 points at the age of 42 in NBA history. The three three-pointers that he hit during the contest were also a career-high as it became clear that he had been working on his perimeter game during all of those years that he was at the end of the Heat’s bench.
Before calling it a career, Haslem set one final record when he checked into the dying second of Game 3 of the 2023 NBA Finals. He became the oldest player to play in an NBA Finals game, breaking the record set by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar over 30 years ago. Unfortunately, Haslem was not able to experience one last championship with Miami as they fell to the Denver Nuggets in five games.
Haslem holds the distinction of being one of only three players to play 20 seasons for one NBA franchise,with the other two being Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) and Dirk Nowitkzki (Dallas Mavericks).
While it has been years since he last made a difference on the basketball court, the mentorship that Haslem has provided the Heat has been invaluable. It comes as no surprise that several undrafted players have blossomed with Miami through the years as the tenured forward is there to provide them with the formula for their success.
The Heat will enter the regular season without Haslem for the first time since ‘02-’03, yet his legacy as one of the cornerstones of this team’s renowned culture continues to live on. Individual accolades are not the only way to leave your mark on a franchise and Haslem is proof of this as he serves as a reminder on the value of keeping around a wise old-timer.