Despite Udonis Haslem’s limited time on the court, Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul recently described himself as Haslem’s biggest fan because of the latter’s work ethic and veteran leadership.
Paul spoke with a group of Los Angeles high school basketball players and explained (at the 45-second mark) why critics of Haslem’s continued presence on the Heat roster are wrong.
— James Burnes (@JamesBurnes8) August 28, 2022
“You all heard everybody talking crazy about him?” Paul said. “‘Why he on the team? Why he on the team?’ Man, I’m probably his biggest fan. You wanna know why? Because young guys need vets. You need somebody like UD showing up every day at practice at 11 and he probably in the gym 8, 8:30 every day. To motivate guys, to push guys.”
Over the past six seasons, Haslem has played in a total of just 58 regular season games for the Heat. Yet, despite that virtual absence from the court, he recently announced that he’ll be back for his 20th and final season.
As a Miami native, Haslem had a connection with the Heat even before he started wearing the team’s uniform during the 2003-04 season. Despite being signed as an undrafted free agent, Haslem has managed to carve out an impressive legacy with the franchise that will include having his number retired
Haslem, who turned 42 in June, developed into an effective part of the Heat lineup. After a rookie season in which he largely came off the bench, he became part of the team’s starting unit for much of the next five seasons.
During that span, Haslem was part of the first NBA championship for the Heat. That came in 2006, when they bounced back from a 2-0 deficit in the finals to defeat the Dallas Mavericks in six games.
Haslem returned to being a key reserve for the Heat during the 2009-10 season. He mostly stayed in that role during the Heat’s magical four-year stretch from 2010 to 2014 that resulted in four finals appearances and two NBA titles.
It was during the latter of those two championships in 2013 that Haslem last started the majority of the Heat’s contests. Since then, he’s slowly evolved into a locker room presence who’s not afraid to challenge his own teammates.
That aggressive approach was seen as recently as last season. That was when he and Heat teammate Jimmy Butler engaged in a heated dispute on the team bench during the course of a timeout.
Jimmy Butler was HEATED in the Miami huddle after the Warriors went on a big run to start the second half pic.twitter.com/6waBmHlL1r
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) March 24, 2022
Challenging a player of Butler’s stature shows that Haslem isn’t intimidated by more talented players. The brief dispute was quickly forgotten, with the Heat eventually reaching Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Paul is likely one of many veteran players who also share a respect for Haslem and the role he currently plays with the Heat. Following in Haslem’s footsteps is likely something that many aging veterans have the opportunity to do as their own careers wind down.