The Miami Heat have had better players than Udonis Haslem, but they’ve never had anyone who represented the city or the team’s culture better than the 20-year veteran who spent his entire career with the franchise. On Friday, Haslem was rewarded for all his hard work with one of the greatest honors a player can receive: having his jersey retired.
A number of Heat legends were in attendance for the ceremony, which took place at halftime of Miami’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks, including Dwyane Wade, Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning. The festivities started with a presentation by Heat broadcaster Eric Reid, who detailed Haslem’s accomplishments and the various gifts the organization had to offer: a $50,000 donation to Haslem’s foundation, a replica of the retirement banner and three new seats inside in honor of Haslem’s late father, mother and stepmother.
Heat president Pat Riley took the mic next. “Udonis Haslem, his force mattered and it counted. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re hanging his jersey here today,” Riley said. “Udonis Haslem is going to leave a very big footprint.”
Then, it was time for the moment everyone had come to see.
After his jersey was raised to the rafters, Haslem spoke to the adoring crowd for nearly 10 minutes. Though there were sunglasses hiding his eyes, the emotion was obvious.
“You all got the money on me crying, don’t y’all? I know you all think I’m going to cry,” Haslem said. “Yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard. It’s hard. Heat Nation, it’s been an absolute honor, man.”
Haslem’s time as a regular rotation player ended many years ago, but though he appeared in just 65 games combined over his final seven seasons, the Heat kept giving him a contract. If he hadn’t decided to retire at the end of last season, they probably would have given him another one. Instead, he moved to the front office, where he now runs their player development program.
“He was the glue,” Bam Adebayo said after the game. “A lot of people get lost in the stats, who averages the most, but he was the glue for everybody. And I feel like the glue guys are the most important guys on a team.”
All told, Haslem spent 20 seasons with the Heat after they signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2003. He helped the team win three championships in 2006, 2012 and 2013, and made four other Finals appearances. He remains the franchise’s all-time leading rebounder with 5,791, and his 879 games played are second only to Wade.
“The Miami Heat organization, we will not only always celebrate his legacy, but we’ll educate people on his legacy,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And his legacy is important to the league as well. My hope is this gets acknowledged and recognized throughout the league … so this new generation of younger players can understand what being an all-time winner can look like.”
After the game, Haslem met with the media and summed up his feelings.
“When you come here and you look up in those rafters and you see the list of guys I’m sitting with, that’s what’s huge to me,” Haslem said of joining Chris Bosh, Wade, Hardaway, Shaquille O’Neal and Mourning as Heat players with retired numbers.
“That’s what makes me feel so amazing is the core group of guys I’m sitting with,” Haslem continued. “[Riley] ain’t just putting anybody up there. [Heat owner Micky Arison] ain’t just OKing anybody to go up in those rafters. To be in that group, to be in that family of guys, that’s what’s gonna be most memorable to me. All of those guys are Hall of Famers. I might not go in, but in my heart, in my soul, I’m just as appreciated in this organization.”