"There's a unique emotional bond between Udonis Haslem and Miami because of how proudly he represents this city and this city's story," Dan Le Batard once said of the Miami Heat player's relationship with the city he's called home his entire life.
The Heat's regular season ends tonight in Boston, so almost everyone's attention is on the immediate future: the NBA playoffs. But fans should take a moment to appreciate the past and and acknowledge this might be the last regular season they'll see Haslem in a Heat jersey.
This isn't a real goodbye, of course, because we know Haslem isn't going anywhere. We hope he has more minutes left on the American Airlines Arena floor, but even if his playing days are done, there will always be a place in the Heat organization for him. The Miami Heat takes care of its own.
So this is a perfect time for fans to appreciate what Haslem has done both on and off the court for the Miami Heat.
He's a three-time NBA champion. He's the Miami Heat's all-time leading rebounder. Only Dwyane Wade has put on a Heat jersey more times and for more minutes than Udonis Haslem. His name litters the Miami Heat record books.
But what Haslem will always mean to the city of Miami goes beyond just the numbers.
He's a true Miami guy, born and raised in the county of Dade, and true to the parts of Miami you don't see during the opening credits of Ballers or even CSI: Miami. Udonis can relate to Miami better than any Heat player ever will because he has lived it his entire life. Haslem attended Miami High and won two state titles in a row, in '97 and '98.
And he's loyal. Given the opportunity to leave in free agency during the famous summer of 2010, he stayed with Miami for less money, because staying meant something. He couldn't imagine putting on another jersey. He couldn't imagine missing out on what was about to happen in his hometown.
When everyone around him was grabbing the most money possible, he prioritized staying with the only family he has ever known, with the team that took a chance on him — Haslem had starred for four years after high school at the University of Florida but had to detour to France to start his pro career after battling weight issues.
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The Heat brought him into the NBA and molded him into the player he is now. The success the Heat enjoyed over the next four years wouldn't have felt the same without him. Hell, it might not have happened without him. Udonis Haslem is the heart of the Heat.
He's a guy Heat fans have always been glad was on our side. Only Udonis Haslem can make being the team's all-time leader in personal fouls feel like an accomplishment we should applaud. But we do because the fouls we remember were followed by us pumping our fists and pounding our chests. It's just
He has passed the torch but continued to run beside the ones holding it, because there is a right way and a wrong way to play for the Miami Heat. What Haslem learned from leaders like Alonzo Mourning and Pat Riley, he has kept in the Heat huddle for a dozen years. That can't be understated.
Whatever the next Udonis Haslem Miami Heat chapter brings, fans are thankful the story continues.