Udonis Haslem: Standing Tall for the Kids

On an excruciatingly hot Saturday afternoon, the pool deck at Duffy's Sports Grill looks uncharacteristically young. Children have invaded the North Miami Beach restaurant, ready to face off against a six-foot-eight, 235-pound behemoth in a game of pick-up pool basketball.

Their 31-year-old opponent has the genetic makeup of a first-class NBA power forward and a five-year, $20 million contract to back it up. But above all, Udonis Haslem is an incredibly generous philanthropist.

"This particular event is more fun-loving," Haslem says. "I'm gonna get in the pool and play some basketball with the kids."

The afternoon pool party at Duffy's is just one of several events Haslem hosts each year to benefit the Udonis Haslem Children's Foundation, a nonprofit organization intended to promote youth development and self-confidence.

"My foundation is strictly family-oriented," he says. "I believe every kid deserves the opportunity to be successful, and sometimes they just need somebody to point them in the right direction and give them a little help.

"There are so many trials and tribulations that youths are facing in the streets, and unfortunately the family foundation is not there. I surround myself with family, and I show these kids a family environment."

Helping those in need is nothing new for the Miami Heat star. "I had a close family friend who passed," he says. "She had three kids, and I sponsored them with school uniforms, bookbags, and school supplies. Then gradually I started taking care of underprivileged families at my mother's church, and my stepmother's church. It only made sense to start a foundation."

Haslem credits much of his success on and off the court to his family. "There's no way without family that I'm in this position today." In fact, many of his relatives and close family friends handle the day-to-day operations of the foundation.

"Overall I think the foundation has been a success," he says. "We've been able to help people in a lot of different ways."

During the holidays last year, Udonis Haslem Children's Foundation helped feed 600 families around Miami-Dade County, and at the start of this school year, the organization provided underprivileged children with everything from school supplies to haircuts.

"I've been blessed, and that's why it's only right for me to give back," Haslem says.

Next April, Haslem will be inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame, an achievement he says is still soaking in.

"It's a tremendous accomplishment, and I'm very thankful they chose me."

How could they not? Miami-born, UF-educated Udonis Haslem is a class act, and we're damn proud to have him in our city.

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