Leading without playing: the 100 lives of Haslem, the soul of the Heat

Haslem is 40 years old and has only played four games this season, but he is the soul of the Heat. Along with Riley and Spoelstra, he has won all three franchise rings.


Four games and a total of 44 minutes. This is what Udonis Haslem has played this season, a rare case even exceptional, a role that only he represents and that no one has been exercising for so long. The power forward never played so few games, but the decreasing trend in recent years suggested that his influence in the purely sporting part had gone from being laughable to non-existent, and that his weight in the dressing room increased as his minutes of play. Some that are now conspicuous by their absence and that have been fewer than ever in a career that spans 17 seasons, all of them linked to the Miami Heat, with which he has won the titles of 2006, 2012 and 2013. That is where he has seen Shaquille pass. O'Neal, LeBron James, Chris Bosh or Dwayne Wade, just a few prominent names in an infinite string of players who have come and gone from Miami without Haslem, that immovable being, changing his shirt or heading for a retreat that now, at 40, she feels closer than ever.

For the moment, he is still part of a squad in which he has no participation on the track but in which he greatly influences the social part. In fact, he is the soul and the heart of the dressing room, the man who maintains the chemistry of the group, teaches the youngest and works variants such as leadership or game management in the most veteran. That is what he has done this year with Jimmy Butler in the same way that he has done with Goran Dragic in the last five years. And their wisdom and leadership, despite not having changed on the track, have multiplied in the playoffs, when their extensive experience has served to keep a young and talented group focused that has crept into the Finals in a way that is as unexpected as it is deserved. We have seen Haslem address the players individually, but also speak in time-outs. In addition, his talks have been leaked in the locker room such as the one he gave to the squad after the defeat in the third game of the Conference finals against the Celtics. There he warned that a series was very long, that they had to continue and that they would most likely suffer more setbacks. In the playoffs, he knows well, you can't win everything, and the series against Boston ended with a good return on the initial advantage (2-0 and 3-1) and the know-how of a team that has transmitted sensations typical of more veteran squads and not simple neophytes trying to solve their first big challenge.

Haslem's role has been enhanced in recent years. A year before Wade left for Chicago, the power forward played just 37 games, none of them starting. His figure, however, was life insurance for Spoelstra, who knew that these were years of transition, not always easy, in which he had to find the key and start a new project. That year, Haslem averaged only seven minutes per game, although it had been no more than 20. In the next three seasons, his role was minimized to the extreme: 16, 14, 10 and 4 games, the latter corresponding to this last campaign. In five seasons, he has accumulated a total of 81 games, only 2 starting. And 580 total minutes, something that accumulated does not exceed the total of any other course of his career, beyond 2010-11, in which he spent most of the year injured. In the last two seasons, the power forward has not stolen any ball or put a stopper and has only exceeded ten points in one of his last 81 games played.

From undrafted to leader of the Heat

Haslem not always had this role. Starting a tradition that Pat Riley has exploited this year (with Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn ...), he made it to the NBA without being drafted. Before, he had become the player with the most victories in the history of the Gators, at the University of Florida, where he spent four years under the command of Billy Donovan, a man who just signed with the Bulls after his stint in Oklahoma. Before making the leap to the best league in the world, he spent a year at the French Élan Sportif Chalonnais. He entered the competition in 2003, the same year as his partner Wade, future stars like Carmelo Anthony and, of course, LeBron James. He sneaked into the Rookies Second Quintet and in his second season he was already the undisputed starter, protecting Shaquille's back in a course in which the Heat reached the seventh game of the Eastern Finals and Haslem averaged, in the regular season, 10, 9 points and 9.1 rebounds in 33.4 minutes of play. His ownership did not change the following year, with Stan Van Gundy sacked and Pat Riley going down to the benches to win the ring, the first for Haslem and the fifth, as coach, for Riley. In the Finals against the Mavs, 6.5 points and 6.2 rebounds, numbers that seem shy but do not correspond to his greatest value at the time, being key in defense over Dirk Nowitzki, whom he left at 22.5 points per game (after he averaged 26.6 in regular season) and averages below 40% in field goals and just 25% in triples. Almost nothing.

Haslem continued to be a linchpin with the arrival of Spoelstra and gained a lot of weight in the locker room before the arrival of LeBron. When this took place, in 2010, he and Wade were the only ones who remained in the champion team in 2006. Also together with Bosh, they reached four consecutive Finals, winning the rings of 2012 and 2013. Haslem's role in those years already had changed, and in 2009-10 he left a tenure that he would only regain intermittently over the next few years. Of course, two more winches and a man who strengthened Spoelstra in the locker room, being an extension of the coach and staying by his side after LeBron's departure in 2014. The one that Riley defined as "the biggest mistake" of the forward's career . At that time, Haslem had not averaged more than 10 points per game since 2008-09, and injuries in 2010-11, in which he was key when he recovered and reached the playoffs, depleted his explosive physique, which still he is kept neat and ready whenever Spoelstra calls upon him. Something that, you already know, does less and less.

Now, Haslem is contesting the sixth Finals of his career, the most among active players alongside Iguodala and only behind LeBron's unattainable 10. Spoelstra has always strengthened his functions to the maximum and has kept him close to him, like a Riley who, aware of his importance, has not included him in any transfer, paying the minimum of veteran to a man who has joined, be careful, more of 60 million in contracts. In total, he has signed eight in his career, all with the Heat. Both the technician and his mentor, by the way, landed in Florida in 1995. In total they have been linked to the franchise for 25 years ... 17 of which have coincided with a Haslem who, moreover, and if we ignore the lonely encounter that Jamal Crawford played with the Nets, he is the player with the oldest contract in the competition after the retirement of Vince Carter, and the only one to pass the age of 40. And there he continues, immovable, in the franchise that has given him everything and to which he has given everything. A man with more than 6,000 points during his career and who is the highest rebounder in the history of the Heat ahead of Alonzo Mourning, being the only player not drafted to achieve such a thing. Haslem has gone on forever, made himself and, without being a star, has managed, with much sacrifice and a partially undervalued role in certain sectors, to be key, in his own way, in the most winning franchise since Jordan's retirement. after Lakers and Spurs. And with the Warriors. I said, the 100 lives of Udonis Haslem, the soul of the Heat.

Photos from as.com
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