Heat Nation Feature: Udonis Haslem - Heat Nation
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Heat Nation Feature: Udonis Haslem

Heat Nation Feature: Udonis Haslem

Forgotten leader. Hometown kid. Role player. Underrated. Overlooked. Irreplaceable.

Each of these words can be used to describe Udonis Haslem, a player who embodies the heart and soul of a Miami Heat team that is constantly lauded as a team of superstars. People always talk about Dwayne Wade and LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen, so it’s hard to believe that one of the most important pieces of this Miami Heat team could be a kid from Miami who went undrafted, has never made an NBA all-star team and has averaged under nine points a game throughout his 10 year career.

But despite frequently being the forgotten man in discussions about the Heat, Udonis Haslem has been a team captain for six consecutive years and has been an integral part of the three teams that have brought championships to Miami in the past decade. And even though the media repeatedly overlooks him, ask anyone in the Miami locker room who the emotional leader of this team is and they will tell you it’s Udonis Haslem.

While his role has never been clearly defined and the team around him has changed drastically over the years, Haslem has been a rare constant in the Heat lineup, bringing veteran leadership that can keep his team focused, even in the face of chaos.

He was there in 2006 when Shaq and Wade brought Miami their first championship since the franchise was founded in 1988. He was there in 2010 when LeBron James and Chris Bosh came to town, bringing a media firestorm to American Airlines Arena night over night, seemingly waiting for this so-called “all-star team” to fail. He was there when they did fail, falling to the Dallas Mavericks in six games in the 2011 NBA Finals and there when they broke through, triumphantly becoming champions for two consecutive years in 2012 and 2013. And in each of those scenarios, he embodied  different roles and pulled different strings to be able to contribute and remain a factor for the team that has become his family.

For all of his successes, Haslem has seen his fair share of adversity and has always found a way to pull through and get stronger.

In high school for example, Haslem’s team had their state title revoked after it was discovered that he and several other players, including fellow NBA player Steve Blake, had lied about their residency in order to play for Miami Senior High. After a stellar college career at the University of Florida, Haslem went undrafted in the 2002 NBA draft and got cut by the Atlanta Hawks in the preseason, forcing him to play overseas in France. Haslem worked hard and dropped over 50 pounds in France playing for Chalon-Sur-Saone and earned himself a spot in the NBA’s Summer League.

After a successful stint in the summer of 2003, Haslem signed with the Heat as an undrafted rookie and worked hard to earn a roster spot. Haslem said “Nothing was never really given to me, so you know, I just persevered. Whenever I have the opportunity to help my team win, and go out there and just do my job, I try to do it.” When you listen to him talk, you get a glimpse of the attitude that has made Haslem a key contributor for the Heat ever since he showed up in 2003.

That team-first attitude was summed up in a postgame interview during last year’s conference finals when he said “I’m not really a guy who’s going to be judged on points every night, you know. Sometimes my job changes as a role player.” It’s precisely this ability to change roles and embrace doing whatever is needed of him that makes Haslem such a key contributor on this Heat squad.

When asked about how important the players besides the “Big 3″ are to Miami’s success, Haslem responded “we just play our roles… some nights it’s just to be solid defensively, some nights it’s to make an impact on the offensive end, but we’ve just got to be ready for whatever our situation may be and whenever our number is called.”

And that’s exactly what he’s done for Miami for the past decade, working and hustling his way into the record books as Miami’s all-time rebounding leader. While celebrating the 2012 championship, Haslem said “It doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet, but I try to bring something to the game every time.” And he does, from locker room leadership to clutch shooting when it matters most, Udonis Haslem has always brought something to the game, and that’s the reason he’s still a key part of Miami’s championship hopes.

With Haslem only averaging 14 minutes and 3.8 points per game this season, it’s impossible to predict what his role might be in the upcoming series against Brooklyn, but one thing is for sure: Udonis Haslem will show up and give 100% for his team, his coach and his city, just like he has for the previous ten years.

Catch Game Two of the Brooklyn/Miami series Thursday, May 8 at 7 pm ET on ESPN2.

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