Earlier this month the Miami Herald welcomed to town a young baseball player named Danny Almonte, the pitcher who threw a perfect game in the 2001 Little League World Series. That victory was tarnished when it was revealed Almonte's father had falsified the boy's birth certificate, making him appear to be twelve years old when he was actually fourteen. To describe Almonte's past, the Herald used words such as "infamy," "lie," "scandal," and "cheating."
Yet last week, in a long profile of Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem, the Herald curiously chose not only to ignore Haslem's own scandalous schoolboy history but to rewrite that history altogether. Those who have been following Haslem's career know the facts about his past, as reported in New Times and elsewhere, to be much different from what the Herald conveyed.
Herald reporter Israel Gutierrez described Haslem as a kid straight out of the mean streets of Liberty City. Such a spin, while perhaps attractive to the members of Destiny's Child, ignored Haslem's upward mobility. He may have roots in Liberty City but his stepmother, Barbara Wooten, worked for American Express, a Fortune 500 company. Haslem lived in a nice house in suburban Broward County and drove an SUV to school in Miami.
Young Haslem had resided (comfortably) in Jacksonville for seven years while his stepmother climbed the corporate ladder. American Express eventually offered Wooten a significant promotion, which required a move to South Florida. Haslem was sixteen years old. The Herald wrote: "When Haslem came back, his family moved into a house in Miramar, but with much of his family living in the heart of Dade County, he was able to attend Miami High to play for its tradition-rich basketball program."
Haslem actually enrolled at Miami High by falsely claiming (along with another elite basketball player) to live in an efficiency apartment with Bob Corella, at the time a Miami High booster and volunteer basketball scorekeeper. Though Corella lived within Miami High's attendance boundaries, he is not and never has been a member of Haslem's family.
At Miami High, the Herald article noted, "Haslem went on to win back-to-back state titles as the anchor of a talented team that included fellow NBA player Steve Blake."
Haslem played for the powerhouse Miami High Stingarees his last two years of high school, and the team did indeed win a state championship during his junior year. In his senior year, though, the team lost every game, as can be verified by the Florida High School Activities Association (FHSAA), the Gainesville-based governing body of the state's high-school sports programs.
It once appeared the Stings had won that second title, just as Almonte once threw that perfect game. But when New Times exposed the fake addresses Haslem and others, including Blake, used to enroll at Miami High ("Dream Team," March 5, 1998), that championship was expunged from FHSAA record books, just as Almonte's perfect game was erased. Miami High's official record in Haslem's senior season: 0-37.
"At about 6-8, 270 pounds, Haslem knew he would make an impact at the school," the Herald wrote of Haslem's arrival at Miami High. "But he didn't know he would become part of a historic group."
That he was, though not in the glorious way the Herald implied. Haslem was at the center of one of the biggest scandals in the history of Florida high-school sports. In its aftermath, Miami High was fined $2500 and forced to reimburse more than $5000 in expenses incurred during the FHSAA's investigation. Five players, including Haslem, were barred from ever playing for Miami High again. The school was required to return the 1998 state championship trophy. Head coach Frank Martin (lauded in the Herald article) was fired, along with the school's athletic director.
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"This is one of the most, if not the most, blatant violations of FHSAA rules against recruiting that I have encountered in my seven years as commissioner of this association," said Ron Davis when he handed down the penalties in August 1998.
Haslem went on to star at the University of Florida, then earned his spot on the Heat through sheer hard work. He is a fantastic player. Apparently so is Almonte. Last year, pitching for a high school in New York, Almonte was named Newsday's player of the year. Now a seventeen-year-old junior, he has enrolled at American Senior High in Hialeah, where he hopes to continue playing baseball. A former Little League coach told the Herald that Almonte just wants to move on with his life.
Now that he has relocated to Miami, and as long as he continues playing well, Almonte should be comforted in knowing the Herald will likely expunge that unseemly cheating business from his record. It'll be like it never happened.