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Udonis Haslem: One More in Miami

He’s running it back for one more season — his 20th in the NBA, all with his hometown Heat. He spoke with Boardroom about what he’s learned and cherished over the years, and what’s coming next.

Pitbull is quick to call himself Mr. 305. And sure, in the pecking order of South Florida cultural ambassadors, the dude is up there. But compared to Miami Heat ironman Udonis Haslem — a singular Vice City staple on par with Crockett, Tubbs, and cafecito — Pitbull may as well be from Peoria.

And on Sunday, basketball’s very own Mr. 305 announced that he’s running it back one last time for his 20th NBA season, all with his hometown team.

His level of sheer longevity is a towering achievement in itself, but the picture fades into even more impressive view when you consider that the Udominator wears three NBA championship rings won seven years apart from one another. Or that his all-time Heat franchise record for rebounds remains standing.

(Or that he might just be the only man on earthplanet with enough clout to get in Jimmy Butler’s face, literally say he’ll beat his ass, and get away with it.)

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But a critical piece of the Udonis Odyssey (Udonyssey?) was that he had to go far away from the nest before he could come back to South Florida.

His high school career began in Jacksonville before he finished things off with consecutive state championships at Miami Senior High School. He lent instant credibility to Billy Donovan’s emerging University of Florida program a few hours up the road in Gainesville, helping the Gators to just their second Final Four and first-ever championship game appearance. But after NBA dreams were deferred after going undrafted in 2002, his fortunes took him all the way to France, where he logged one season (and whipped himself into much better physical shape) with Chalon-Sur-Saône.

Barely one year after his draft night disappointment, a contract offer came from Pat Riley’s Miami Heat in August of 2003. UD was coming home.

And he’s been there ever since.

To mark the occasion, Boardroom caught up with Udonis Haslem in his beloved hometown to discuss his evolution from young upstart to wizened player-coach, his late father’s influence on the decision to return for one last ride, growing as an entrepreneur and investor, his most cherished memories and teammates throughout his uncommon career, and a whole lot more.


What inspired you to return for your 20th NBA season? 

Just a promise. My father and I always talked about how we wanted to finish in my career — it was his idea to go 20.

It’s a hell of a milestone. It’s a hell of a class, a group of guys to be in the category with, and it was his idea. Throughout my whole career, there has been so many people that sacrificed for me to be to this point, so this is something I wanted to give back to the people that have sacrificed, just the different things that they’ve had to give for me to be in this situation. So 20 years is going to my pops.

You have taken on nearly every single basketball role in your career, from starter to role player to player-coach. How do you reflect on that journey?

I just figured out a way to win, you know what I mean? I figured out a way to win.

Even through the most adverse circumstances, a situation that I’m in now where I don’t hardly play that much, everybody wanna know, ‘What’s the secret? Like, why do they keep him around? Why is he still here?’ I figure out a way to impact winning. That’s in me. That’s what’s inside me.

I don’t care what position you put me in; I can’t just sit there and just take it. I gotta figure out a way to get out of it. I gotta figure out a way to make the best of it. I gotta figure out a way to win in that situation, in that spot. And I probably just come back to growing up here in Miami in Liberty City, man.

It’s a lot that goes on down here. I think people get confused. South Beach and Miami, it’s not the same. I keep it real. There’s no way you can last through this many generations of players, there’s no way you can keep your face clean in the city this long, you know what I’m saying? So I would survive, and I’ve survived out here in these streets and I’ve survived in business for 20 years.

People see through the flaw shit, people see through the fake shit. Fake shit is out here, it’s everywhere, so I had to say it twice, you know what I’m saying? They see through it, man, and the only way you can last this long is to keep it one, you know what I mean?

And I think sometimes people get it confused that you can’t do good while doing well. You ain’t gotta lie. You ain’t gotta cheat. You ain’t gotta sneak — and you still can do well. 

You are considered an originator of “Heat Culture.” What does that mean to you?

Being considered the originator of Heat Culture just means that I’m the bearer of [it], I carry it. I carry that responsibility.

That means a lot to me because that can’t just be passed on to anybody. There is a culture here, and we ain’t for everybody. And I think people look at the culture of the Miami Heat and they understand how hard it is to be here and how disciplined you have to be.

My boy said, ‘Y’all drafted Dwyane Wade outta Marquette,’ and I was like, ‘Who the fuck is that?’ He was like, ‘Motherfucker cold.’ So, fast-forward, when I did get a chance to meet him, I was like, ‘Yo, I heard about you.’ … From that point on, it just grew from a friendship to a brotherhood.

You look at our roster of guys and you see seven, eight undrafted guys. You see guys that had to get it out of the mud. You see guys that wasn’t given the opportunity to step into the offense and say, ‘Here, the ball goes through you.’ You see guys that literally had to impact winning from all different situations. That’s what basketball is about.

Everybody looks at basketball and they look at obviously the superstar. There’s a shitload of talent in this fucking league. You can’t deny that, but that’s not what’s gonna get you to the championship — it’s gonna be the other guys. The other guys are just as important. I think people don’t understand that.

We value those other guys here. You come in here, you put the work in, you’ll get a fair shot. And once you get a fair shot, you fall in line and you get in a rotation and everybody eat here. Everybody eat.

Who is Pat Riley the symbol, and who is Pat Riley the man?

Pat Riley the symbol? You probably wanna look at some mob shit. [Laughs] I ain’t never been afraid of no man, but I think the first two years with the Miami Heat, I ain’t even speak to Pat. It was just uncomfortable. The slick-back hair, you know, the pants and his shoes. I watched The Godfather. I seen all that shit.

I think people hit the nail on the head, the fucking Godfather, you know what I’m saying? And it’s not just the image that he portrays and the way he dresses — it’s the way he carry himself. It’s the way he handles business. It’s Godfather, Pat Riley. The man is a fucking winner. Pat Riley, the man is a winner like myself, regardless of what situation he’s been put in. He wasn’t the greatest basketball player, you know? He wasn’t the greatest coach, the way the situation started out, coming from being on the sideline and doing TV to stepping into a situation where he maximized that opportunity and fucking sky was the limit.

I think that’s the same thing I do. You put me in a situation and you give me a small piece of that shit, you just gimme a small fucking piece, I’m gonna maximize that shit and I’m gonna want more.

It’s gonna grow and I’m gonna show you what I can do with it, because the small piece you gave me, I was already overqualified for that shit. [Laughs] But I just took it because that was my way to get in the door. And then I’m gonna show you what I could really do.

Take us back to when Riley passed the torch to Erik Spoelstra. How did your relationship develop with Spo? What’s his particular greatness?

I think what people don’t understand [is] that when Pat passed the torch down to him that it was supported by the locker room, it was supported by the guys. Myself, Dwyane [Wade], we had spent so much time with Spo over the summers. Those hours that people don’t hear about, those hours that people don’t see; 2 a.m. in the gym, running at the track at those hours before we even step out on the basketball floor. Those hours were put in behind the scenes with Spo, so we were more comfortable with Spo stepping into that situation than anybody.

Now, the dynamics change, because now he’s not just somewhat of a friend or an associate — he’s your coach. Those are the only things that was kind of different for us to adjust to, but we were happy about Spo getting that job.

Once again, it’s a culture. Nobody knows the culture like the people that’s in it.

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What will life after basketball look like?

What is life after basketball? Looks like sky’s the limit.

I look around every day and the luxury that I have to be from Miami, to be in the city, and to be such a well-liked person is I don’t have to read about it in the paper [about] what the city need. And the people, they tell me, they complain to me every day [about] what’s fucked up. What’s wrong out here. I have the resources to change it and fix it.

The Big 3 and the “Little 12.” I always remember the Little 12… Shout-out to all those boys, Rashard Lewis, Shane Battier, Eddie House, Mike Miller, James Jones, Birdman — we kept each other going.

They’ll tell me and I listen and I take it to the other people and I figure that shit out where there’s a need. You know, I look at this situation I’m in now and the medical marijuana and the opportunity that we have with the flower of Florida. This was an opportunity where we sat around and things are changing through the pandemic. You know, what’s pandemic-proof? What survives if something like this happens again? Motherfuckers are drinking and they’re smoking — that’s a fact, Jack. [Laughs] You know what I’m saying? So we have to pivot. You can’t be stubborn. You gotta evolve or die out here. It’s changing every day. You gotta be up on that.

And that’s why I keep my ear to the streets. The people let you know, and once you figure it out, it’s your opportunity. It is your job because they don’t have the resources. It’s your job because you get this shit.

What did you learn from playing overseas in France? Did you almost go a different route?

What I learned from playing overseas in France? That I could really do anything I put my fucking mind to.

The whole time I stayed on American time, which I think is six hours different. I can’t remember now ’cause it’s been so fucking long, but I stayed on US time. I actually slept during the fucking day and I stayed up all night, and the only reason I did that is ’cause my mindset was that this is just a pit stop, [then] take my ass back home.

That mindset right there, that I could do some crazy shit like that, just let me know that I could do anything. I lost about 30 pounds over there. I changed my diet. Once I came through that situation, I just felt like anything I put my mind to, nobody couldn’t tell me I couldn’t do it. I mean, I did it, which was crazy.

Everybody was up and I was asleep. When everybody was asleep, I was up, but it was all just training my mind and challenging myself to put myself in a position to be back in the NBA.

Your first season with the Heat was also Dwyane Wade’s. What was your first memory of him?

Wow. My first memory with Dwyane [Laughs].

I actually didn’t know who Dwyane was, and it’s no disrespect. D-Wade is my boy — love you, boy. I ain’t know who the hell he was. I had been in Europe that last year; people don’t remember I was in France the year he played his last year [in college], so I hadn’t seen what he did with Marquette and Kentucky, and how he got the triple-double and [made] the Final Four. I hadn’t seen all that shit. I was in France.

So when I got back, my boy said, ‘Y’all drafted Dwyane Wade outta Marquette,’ and I was like, ‘Who the fuck is that?’ He was like, ‘Motherfucker cold, triple-double, been paying attention.’ So, fast-forward, when I did get a chance to meet him, I was like, ‘Yo, I heard about you, my boy told me all about you.’ And that’s kind of how it started from that point on and every day we spent together.

I let him know ‘This my city, you good. You ain’t going nowhere. You ain’t no problems. You alright, you do what you wanna do. You move how you wanna move. You need anything, you call me. I’ll be there.’

From that point on, it just grew from a friendship or a teammate to a brotherhood. We spent every day running at the track. Our days were crazy, in the morning at the track, back to the gym to lift, in the gym for shooting, go play pick-up, back to the gym later on that night to play, shoot again. So, literally, these were our days for five days a week, and we literally pushed each other and we grew stronger, closer, and [built] trust.

Pat Riley the “symbol?” You probably wanna look at some mob shit. [Laughs] I ain’t never been afraid of no man, but I think the first two years with the Miami Heat, I ain’t even speak to Pat. It was just uncomfortable. The slick-back hair, you know, the pants and his shoes. I watched The Godfather. I seen all that shit.

I think when you come from situations like we came from, [it] really bonded us together. My mother struggled from drug addiction and homelessness and certain things, and his mother struggled from certain things. You grow up you have trust issues with a lot of different things, and I think we found somebody that we both could trust.

When you step into a situation with the NBA, nobody really understands what you’re stepping into. There’s no class they teach you. There’s no teacher to lead. You kind of learn on the fly. You damn near don’t trust nobody. You don’t trust the coach. You don’t trust the owner — he wants you to do what he wants you to do so he can win. He doesn’t care about you as a person. That’s your mindset when you first step into this. So, to find a brother in that situation, it was good for both of us.

It continued to grow. Brother, brother, it changes. Some days, I’m big brother. Some days, he’s big brother. Some days, I don’t wanna listen. Some days, he doesn’t wanna listen, but I think what we do is we inspire each other. We commend each other. We give each other each other’s flowers while we still here, and we inspire each other to  continue to move the needle.

Who have been some of your other favorite teammates over the years?

It’s easy for me. Mike Miller, he went to Florida with me. He’s a Gator. It’s my dog. Shout-out. Mike took me to South Dakota, you know what I’m saying? Never fucking been to South Dakota. It was crazy. I went to South Dakota.

I had seen Mike playing AAU basketball, and this is when I really knew there was white guys out here that can play. And this is not no bullshit — I grew up in Miami. You only see what you see. When I saw that motherfucker, I was like, ‘There is a motherfucker out here and he is a unicorn. He dribble, he pass, he shoot, he rebound.’ His team wasn’t very good, but he was amazing. [Laughs] Now, fast-forward, he was my college roommate.

So, Mike Miller and James Jones. James Jones is somebody who I played against in high school. [He] was right here from Miami. I look at what James doing now over in Phoenix, it’s amazing. So, the kids that’s from Miami; I know y’all watch basketball and that shit is amazing to watch us run up dunking shit, but guess what? We got a fucking GM out here from the crib. Y’all need to know that, and that shit go a long way, man, because it’s other opportunities  and outlets for these kids out here.

I just think they need to see it. They only know what they see. So we gotta show ’em other shit.

On the flipside, how do you navigate dealing with a teammate you don’t exactly vibe with or get along with?

For me, I think figuring out that everybody’s different and that’s okay, that that’s okay with me. You don’t have to be like me. You don’t have to be like that person. You don’t have to be like Spo. You don’t have to be like nobody. You can just be yourself.

I don’t think there’s a teammate that I haven’t necessarily vibed with because I can respect who you are. As long as you ain’t disrupting the motherfucking chain in the wheel, I’m fine with who you are. I done seen all type of people, and I grew up in situations where you don’t judge a motherfucker for what they do all the time, ’cause people do what they gotta do to get by.

People are different, but you adjust. You understand why they’re different instead of pointing the finger, ‘This motherfucker, this, that, why is he different?’ Understand why he different, where he came from, what he used to, what’s his norm. Then, you might understand who he really is. Once you understand who he is, it’s easy to push the button to get the best out of him.

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What do you remember from that 2010 offseason when LeBron James and Chris Bosh showed up?

It was [a] crazy training camp that we had at the army base. No matter how great of a career Chris Bosh had before he got into Miami, motherfucker, you have to show me. I have to see it personally. Fuck what I saw on TV.

It was the same thing with Bron and D-Wade. I understand who you are. I understand what you’ve done, but motherfucker, you have to show me — and it’s not disrespect, but this [is] competition and it’s only gonna make us better.

I think that was probably one of the most competitive situations that I’ve ever been in. We’re away from home. You’re literally in on an army base, sleeping in, like, dorm rooms. And every day, you waking up and you just competing and you just hitting it. I think that was probably one of the most memorable things about that situation and that total run with those guys was the way it all started.

Some critics will occasionally refer to Miami as a “bad sports town.” What do you say to those critics?

From the jump, the fact that Miami is referred to as a bad sports town is crazy to me.

I totally disagree. I totally disagree. What is that based on? You got all kinds of statistics out here now. The world is full of fucking analytics. That’s some bullshit. Somebody got a job to make that shit up and they get paid for that shit. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that. I feel like we got the best fucking fans in the world. The problem is most of the fans can’t afford to come to the games — the real fans, the people where I’m from.

[Heat Culture] means a lot to me because it can’t just be passed on to anybody… I think people look at the culture of the Miami Heat and they understand how hard it is to be here and how disciplined you have to be.

I used to have to sit on the fucking wall and watch the Dolphins game on a fucking big screen across the street from shit. Me and my boys used to walk, get in somebody’s backyard, climb on their fucking wall. We would watch the fucking Dolphin game on a big screen.

So, the problem is the motherfuckers that wanna come to the game — real, real diehard fans, not the motherfuckers that dress up and put that shit on the sit courtside ’cause they can afford it — the diehard fucking Miami fans just can’t afford to come, but they there cussing at the TV and throwing shit. They there.

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve witnessed in the NBA during your career?

The range. You gotta pick a motherfucker up at half court.

They’ll let it fly with consistency. Like, that’s that. You can’t run back and say, ‘We gonna pick him up at the three-point line.’ That shit is gone. It’s literally in the scouting report it ain’t ‘Just let ’em shoot that shit.’ It’s like, no, get up on, ’em pick ’em up, occupy the ball. Make ’em uncomfortable.

The skill set of these guys, as far as where they’re shooting from and how they’re shooting the ball, getting it off quick, all this kind of shit. Steph Curry shoot the shit and he looking [the other] way, walking back, and the shit go in. I don’t understand this shit.

This is the kind of shit that has changed that you don’t see, and I love it. It’s entertainment. My kids love it. I hate it when I’m on the other side of it, but I think it’s amazing that the work that these guys are putting in, man, because that shit doesn’t happen overnight. These boys ain’t throwing shit at the wall to see if it sticks; they know what they doing. Wow.

What do you think are the biggest changes we’ll see over the next three to five years in the NBA?

I don’t know how much more talent can be coming. The fucking talent is unmatched. It’s crazy. It’s just getting younger, but the talent is unmatched shit. You look down a line of these kids that are coming outta high school. You watch AAU. The talent is unmatched. It’s only gonna get better, but I don’t know how much better it can get; is a motherfucker going dunk from the three-point line now?

Maybe somebody makes some more money — maybe we’ll make some baseball money. That could be the change. ‘NBA, go make some baseball money.’ How about that? That’s the only thing I could see, man, cause the talent is ridiculous.

The TV money, you know, the excitement of the game, how it’s growing overall [and] internationally — you know, we have NBA Africa now — it’s just so much going on.

As you enter your final season, what are some of the Heat moments you’ll cherish the most?

They change. Some of the Heat moments that I value the most, the ones that I have now, they’ll probably be different when I retire. But the moments that I have right now in my head are just the winning moments are just going and pouring Gatorade over Spo — because I only seen that in football, so I wanted to do it in basketball cause nobody does it ’cause of the floor. But I said, fuck it, we won a chip, you know what I’m saying? That don’t happen too often.

Just the times in the locker room with the guys, the Big 3 and the “Little 12.” I always remember the Little 12, all my boys. Shout-out to all those boys.

Rashard Lewis, Shane Battier, Eddie House, Mike Miller, James Jones, Birdman — we kept each other going, because it’s not easy to play around the core group of great fucking players. You know, we was interchangeable like drawers. It just depends on who played that night and who we were playing against. Depending on what defensive scheme we were going against, how they played, that depended on how the Little 12 would play.

Because all of us couldn’t play, you really had to be a man about that shit. It might not be your night, but you gotta enjoy the success of your other brother and be ready when it’s your time and he gotta do the same for you.

I think that’s what I’m always going to remember, ’cause I think that’s when I really understood what winning was about. I thought it was just [getting] your numbers, and you realize at some point you gotta make a choice — how bad do you wanna win? It’s only certain guys that’s gonna probably get their numbers; everybody else gotta fill in the gaps, and I think that’s something I’m gonna always remember. It’s about hard work, but it’s more so about sacrifice what you willing to give up to fucking win.

That’s what people don’t really understand. I think everybody thinks they just go out, work hard, and hit the fucking pavement and they gonna win. And that’s part of it, [but] there’s gonna be a sacrifice in there, and what are you fucking willing to sacrifice to get to the top, [get] that ring or whatever it is you searching for? I think that’s what I’ll always remember.

I’m out this bitch. Twenty years and I’m gone, ain’t gotta worry about me no more.

How do you plan to stay involved with the Heat organization following your retirement?

Moving forward with the Heat, my role I think is to continue to be a leader at the highest level.

God bless the dead –since my agent, Henry Thomas, passed away, I’ve pretty much represented myself with an amazing team around me. I have a relationship with the ownership of the Miami Heat and we’ve had those conversations about [continuing] to be a leader at the highest level and helping those guys continue the culture, the winning ways, and bringing more championships to Miami. That’s the goal and that’s what’s next for me.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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