On June 30, the night NBA free agency began, a black SUV with tinted windows rolled up to Udonis Haslem’s vacation home in Orlando, FL.
“That s**t almost got shot up,” Haslem said on teammate Duncan Robinson’s podcast, The Long Shot. “It’s creeping and it’s slow, I’m like, Who the f**k is this?!”
To his surprise, a delegation of six Miami Heat employees got out of the car. It was 6 p.m., the literal minute free agency began, and they were there to make a personal pitch for the big man to come back for his 20th season—tied for the second-longest tenure with any one team.
Usually, this type of pitch is reserved for high-profile targets. Haslem, on the other hand, has only played in 58 regular season games the last six seasons. So why the royal treatment?
UD’s impact within the organization is undeniable. He was a key player on all three of their championship teams. He’s the Heat’s all-time leading rebounder. And when his number was called last year, he stepped up.
On the other hand, a roster spot is a valuable thing. After all, an NBA team only has 15 of them. Haslem’s critics say that spot should be used for an up-and-coming player, a new free agent or more. So why use it on a 42-year-old power forward?
Well, the Heat clearly know the answer. His teammates know. And you can be sure that UD knows. And he was kind enough to sit down with SLAM and tell us.
SLAM: We heard your interview on Duncan Robinson’s podcast this summer. You said: “Another misconception is I take up a roster spot…People are so focused on my age and why I’m here. There’s a reason why I’m f***** here.” So, what’s that reason?
UD: I mean, for me, there’s very few people, at any level, that can pay attention to every single detail, and that can actually do it consistently. I’m one of those people. I’m anal that way. But it doesn’t always translate when it comes from a coach to a player. But when it comes from player to player, it translates differently.
I raise the level of everything. Not just on the court. I raise the level off the court, I raise the level of the organization. I’m raising the level of the trainers, I’m raising the level of Pat [Riley] when he’s sitting there watching. I raise the level of everything around me. I am the Heat way. We’ve rotated players, but it doesn’t matter. Regardless of who’s come here or who’s left, I remain here, and I am the Heat way. And it rubs off on others.
But every year, I have to earn the respect. Nobody’s given me s**t. Every year these guys are walking in here saying, This old motherf***er back again, and I gotta earn the respect of the new guys. The guys that have been here, they know. They understand. But I gotta earn the respect of the new guys that come in. And then I’ma show you. I’ll go out there and I’ll play. And I’ll do what I have to do.
SLAM: Speaking of leadership, ownership is something you’ve aspired to. Could you talk a little about that?
UD: My influence is very, very strong. And the only way I can maximize that and use it in the right way, for the Miami Heat and for myself, is to be in the highest level of leadership, and that goes in ownership.
But I have influence around this entire NBA, as the OG. A lot of guys look up to me. A lot of guys reach out for advice. And I appreciate that. You lose those relationships if you step into a coaching situation. But I think when you step into a leadership role of an owner, and somebody who guys have trusted as a player, I think it just maximizes the power that you have and for the organization that you’re working for.
SLAM: It seems you do have a gift, or a knack, for impacting these younger guys. I mean, the Heat have turned into this elite developmental organization for undrafted players.
UD: I call them “My Undrafted Minions.” I love those dudes, man. Those dudes, man, they got my heart. Max [Strus]. Gabe [Vincent]. Duncan [Robinson]. Caleb [Martin]. Dewayne Dedmon.
SLAM: Why is that?
UD: Because I understand, man. It’s such a short leash when you come here in that situation. There’s no room for error. And odds are literally stacked against you. They probably got a guy that they drafted that plays your position, or another guy that came from another team that plays your position. I just understand the pressure of that situation. If you can come through that and be out on top, and not just be on the team but be actual rotation players and guys that actually move the needle? All these guys have added years onto their career, have gotten their money…these guys have literally beat the odds.
But I don’t think people really understand the work I’ve put in to be able to impact these guys. I can’t just show up and smoke cigarettes and throw s**t at the walls and see if it sticks.
SLAM: The only way to tap into these younger guys is to show it and to earn it.
UD: Yeah, and I have to earn it every year, bro. I have to earn it every year. I can’t take a summer off. As soon as the season’s over, I give myself a week or two and I’m back at it. That’s how it has to be.
SLAM: It’s amazing you’ve continued for this long at such a high level. When those guys come in, day one, the Undrafted Minions, what do you say to them?
UD: Follow me, I f**k with you. Off the top. I don’t know you, I know nothing about you. I know your situation, and based off your situation, you my brother. You’re not just my teammate. Based on your situation, you have now become my little brother.
SLAM: Still, though, it’s one thing to say you enjoy someone else’s success, but it’s another to actually embody it.
UD: It’s very hard. I had to learn some of these things the hard way. When you get to a point in your career and the organization starts to make a shift toward younger players, you have a choice. You can bitch and moan and complain, get shipped out or go somewhere else, or you can settle into your situation and figure out how to make the best of it. And how to win. And any situation I’ve been put in, I’ve just said, F**k it, I’m not gonna whine. Whine? How can I win in this situation? Whatever it is, whatever you put me in, how can I win here? And that’s all I’ve done.
And oftentimes you can’t control the situations you’re in. You ask these guys around the League, there’s maybe 10 guys around the whole League that actually play the role that they want to play. Everybody else, you’re in the supporting cast. Everyone else is in the supporting cast. So, how can you star in that role?
SLAM: It definitely takes a humbling. How do you do that?
UD: There’s been the dark nights. You don’t wanna get out of bed, you’re in the dark all day. You’re frustrated. You don’t understand. But it’s the nature of the business. It can be nothing that you’ve done wrong.
And for me, yes, I could’ve left a long time ago and went and played somewhere else. But would my heart have always been in it? No. It’s not all about the money, it’s not all about playing. I’ve always had a long-term goal. My long-term goal was to be part of this organization for my whole career, and then from that, impact the city. I’ve always had a bigger vision.
SLAM: You’ve gone toe-to-toe with so many guys. You’ve been the enforcer, holding them accountable. What makes you so fearless?
UD: My pops. I remember I thought he was nuts. I couldn’t imagine a man that wasn’t afraid of anything. But now that I got older, I appreciate that. My pops never thought anybody was better than him. He never thought he could lose. And you believed that if you had him on your side, you had an army with you. I just kind of inherited that. It wasn’t always like that, but I inherited that.
That’s something I’ve been able to give to my guys. Because I do believe in each and every one of them. Even if they have doubt, I’m gonna look them in they f**king eye and tell them, I believe, so you better! You better, because I do! I don’t give a damn if you’ve been drafted 1, I don’t give a damn what school he went to. I believe in you. Kick his ass!
SLAM: You’ve won championships. You’re in the Heat history books. You’ve got the respect. At this point in your career, what brings you joy?
UD: Watching these dudes come in here, man, and getting their money. Getting their recognition. Watching Caleb Martin get paid this summer. Watching Duncan Robinson get paid a few years ago. Watching James Johnson get paid his $66 million when he was here. Dion Waiters getting paid his $60 million when he was here. Hassan Whiteside getting paid his max contract when he was here. That is what I enjoy.
All those guys that I named that have gotten their money, gotten their contract, resurrected their careers, have come here on their last leg when nobody else believed. Like Omer Yurtseven. You know how much of an ass kicking I had to do with O last year? And to watch O get out there, when Bam was out, to have all those double-double games? That’s it, bro. That’s it. That’s what I need. That’s all I need. Don’t waste my time. When those guys listen, and those things manifest for them, I’m happy.
Photos from Getty Images.