The Miami Heat‘s front office has received a lot of flack for keeping power forward Udonis Haslem on the active roster for so many years past his prime. Many argue the team is wasting a roster spot on the 41-year-old veteran since he rarely ever plays, or complain he’s nothing more than an overpaid “mascot.”
However, Haslem is flipping the script just when everyone least expected it. Sure, he’s the oldest active player in the entire league, who’s currently in his 19th (!) season in the NBA, but Haslem can still play.
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The Miami native has already clocked more minutes during the 2021-22 season than he did all of last year. The three-time NBA champion has played 17 minutes throughout the Heat’s first 15 games, while last season, he played 2 minutes and 40 seconds throughout the entire year.
During Wednesday’s night comeback win over the New Orleans Pelicans, Haslem entered the game when the Heat was down by 15 points. While he was on the court, Miami outscored New Orleans by 10 during his 6 minutes and 21 seconds of action, tallying three rebounds, two points, a blocked shot, a charge drawn, and an assist.
With a slew of veteran starters on the team who will need regular rest days, it seems head coach Erik Spoelstra will be utilizing the longest-tenured Heat player more often.
“This year this team is a little bit more of a veteran team,” Spoelstra said, per Sun Sentinel’s Ira Winderman, “and I think he just fits for those kind of spot minutes. He’s right in his element. Those guys, they all speak the same language.”
For Haslem, he’s clearly been reading the comments and is ready to shut down the haters. “For me, it’s funny,” Haslem said. “But at the same time, I tell people all the time, as long as I stay healthy, I can still play this game. You know, my body is key right now. But my mind still moves at a record pace. I’m ahead of the plays.”
Spoelstra said during his postgame conference on November 17, “UD gives you that emotional ignitability. That’s tangible, but you can’t put an analytic to it. But he gave us a great emotional spark, made some plays. Of course, he’s going to take a hit. But the block and then running the floor. All of that, you could just feel it lift up our team, which was great to see. I’ve seen that so many times, that emotional lift.”
Haslem Doesn’t Want Fans to Cheer Just Because He Checks In to Games
While there will always be detractors, Haslem has the unequivocal support and respect from his teammates and the Heat staff as a whole. He doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk. He is the embodiment of Heat culture.
“Obviously when I get an opportunity to go out there and play, I can’t just talk about it, I got to be about it,” Haslem said after Wednesday night’s game. “So for me, I try to preach to my guys that I am who I really say I am. And I want those guys to be who they say they are every night we step on the floor.”
Five-time All-Star Jimmy Butler, who scored 31 points against the Pelicans, along with 10 assists, and 10 rebounds, has Haslem’s back at all times. “He’s just keeping everybody ready,” Butler said, “making sure that everybody’s in rhythm, everybody’s in shape and everybody’s comfortable out there on the floor. I’m grateful for it.”
Haslem Said He Wants to Play 20 Seasons in the NBA
Haslem joined the Heat in 2003, but he hasn’t been a permanent part of the rotation since the 2014-15 season. This past summer, Haslem once again signed a one-year veteran’s minimum contract ($2.6 million), the same deal he signed for the 2020-21 NBA season, per Sun Sentinel‘s Ira Winderman.
Haslem maintains 6% body fat and continues to train hard each and every day as if he’s still in the starting lineup.
“There’s an expectation here and a standard,” Haslem explained. “For me, that’s always been about everybody else. What do I get outta this? 20 years. If I can get 20 years it’ll be an amazing career for a kid that no one thought would play in the league. All my sacrifices, everything I’ve given, the only thing I’ve asked for is to try to get to 20.”
Once Haslem decides to retire, he can start making more public appearances like Wade. “We’re very competitive,” Haslem said with a laugh. “We’re alpha males and are competitive. We even went head to head about the summer-league game. That was a big deal. And we lost, and I didn’t like that.”