Udonis Haslem is the last Miami Heat Mohican. He is the proverbial cockroach that survived a nuclear blast. If the Miami Heat's roster over the past decade were a Hunger Games movie, the odds have definitely remained ever in U.D.'s favor.
Since 2003, through all of the ups and downs, there's always been one constant in the American Airlines Arena home locker room before a Miami Heat game: Udonis Haslem pulling a No. 40 jersey over his head and taking the floor for his hometown team. Through thick and thin, Heat fans have marched up the stairs from Biscayne Boulevard to see his name on the roster. Hell, since U.D. has been on the Heat, there have been three U.S. presidents. It's been one helluva run.
U.D. has outlasted every other Heat teammate, from Rafer Alston and Sean Marks to Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Haslem has shaken their hands on the way in and patted their asses on the way out. He's been the leader of the locker room for most of his tenure in Miami. Everyone from Shaquille O'Neal to LeBron has referred to him as the heart of the Heat franchise.
Really, there are only a handful of players who have ever put on a Heat jersey that one could claim was more important to the club. His face might not be on the Mount Rushmore of Heat stars, but without him, there would be no mountain.
So what do you get for the man who has everything and has seen it all? How can the team go above and beyond for Haslem to thank him for all he has done for the Heat? Miami could start by giving him an honor no one else in the history of the franchise has ever received, thus cementing his legacy now. The Heat could retire Haslem's jersey this season, even while it's still in use. An extraordinary player deserves unheard-of accolades, and that is what raising Haslem's jersey into the AAA rafters on opening night would be: a rare honor given to a rare player.
Why wait to shower one of the greatest players in franchise history with such an assumed honor like ensuring no one will ever wear the same number again? Really, what's the point of putting it off? In five years, retiring Haslem's No. 40 jersey would be just another run-of-the-mill, average halftime ceremony that would largely be forgotten.
But if his jersey were retired this year while he's still an active player, Heat fans could show Haslem the sort of in-season love Yankees fans got to show Derek Jeter before he retired. And U.D. could step outside his role as a player and take a broader look at what he has truly meant to the city of Miami.
Udonis Haslem has had an unforgettable career with the Heat. He deserves at least one more unforgettable moment before he retires.
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