“That’s all I can say right now. I got no hard feelings. I understand it’s a business.” Taken out of context, and this quote from Enes Kanter, then of the Oklahoma City Thunder, is just as applicable to him as any piece of NBA trade fodder in the last five years.
The league is replete with stories of loyalty (or lack thereof), too many to count, even. When GMs and owners decide it’s time to change course, players can be swapped out as easily as car tires, while teams test drive a variety of player combinations. In the revolving doors leading to NBA’s 30 team locker rooms, at least one man can boast a highly valued but underutilized perspective on loyalty: Udonis Haslem.
In an interview with the Miami Herald, the Miami Heat veteran power forward coolly remarked that he considered signing with the Cleveland Cavalier during the offseason. “I got an interesting call from Cleveland. My son [Kedonis] is out there at the University of Toledo in Ohio. It was something to consider.”
And consider he could; the 6’8’’ forward from Florida had every reason to bite at a veteran minimum contract in Believeland. Beyond teaming up with Dywane Wade and LeBron James, UD could have set his sights on another championship ring to add to the trifecta already in his trophy case. While playing time might not be at the forefront of the 37-year old’s mind (though he asserts, “There are minutes for a guy out there like myself”), taking his locker room presence to Cleveland would provide yet another career hallmark for a player as equally primed to transition to a coaching or office position as he could outside the league. In 2016, Haslem sat down with TNT’s David Aldridge to talk about his interests beyond the court, one of which includes franchising restaurants to provide jobs in “the inner city and [for] underprivileged people.”
That same interview characterizes the type of loyalty the name “Haslem” has stood for over the last 14 years in Miami. Between his years of service on the court to his job creation and recent involvement with the All Aboard Florida transit project, Haslem has been consistently loyal to the city and state that made him. More surprising, is the Heat’s willingness to support UD, who inked the big man to a one-year deal on July 20, 2017. Team President/Godfather Pat Riley has made his post coaching career around managing player transactions with an iron fist, notably refusing to offer Wade his requisite salary, leading to his jumping to Chicago in the 2016 off-season. Riley has made clear his brand of loyalty is to the Miami franchise, a loyalty so strong that it quite handedly supersedes loyalty to any one player.
Keeping Haslem in the locker room and on the roster paints a picture of a two-way brand of loyalty rivaled only by the tenure of Oklahoma City’s Nick Collison. Two seasons ago Haslem logged minutes in just 37 games, and was down to 16 last year. While he offers veteran leadership on a preseason roster averaging 25.8 years of age, giving Haslem the opportunity to remain a fixture in Miami sports is as much a show of respect to the big man as it is the fans and community around him.
Intangibles – that which can’t be taught watching film or drilled through reps in the gym are what Haslem brings to Heat and the city of Miami. With plenty of older players attaching themselves to teams for a last ditch shot at a ring (David West in Golden State comes to mind), Haslem’s story is immediately refreshing. UD will end his career as the Heat’s all time rebound leader, and is currently 25 games away from being its longest tenured player – pretty good for a guy that went undrafted in 2002. For all the dissenters that boast loyalty doesn’t exist, Udonis Haslem would like a word with you.