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udonis haslem 2021
  • 40-year-old Heat big man Udonis Haslem made his season debut on Thursday and got ejected in three minutes.

  • Despite his lack of playing time, Haslem plays a huge role on the Heat as a mentor and leader.

  • NBA players insist a respected veteran presence like Haslem’s can make all the difference on a team.

  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Miami Heat on Thursday dusted off Udonis Haslem for the first time all season. He got ejected in three minutes.

It would be natural to question why the Heat keep Haslem around. At 40 years old, in his 18th season, Haslem has played in just 15 games in the past three years and 45 games the past six years.

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Haslem has signed a series of one-year, veteran’s minimum contracts in recent years to stay with the team and is making $2.5 million this season. The Heat could presumably give his role and money to a player who contributes more on the court.

Nobody would disagree more than the Heat. Members of the organization value Haslem’s role as a mentor and stable locker room presence more than any contributions they could get from a fringe, development NBA prospect.

“Everybody knows in this building, but most importantly in that locker room, the level of impact that he has,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters on Thursday. “That’s developing leaders in that locker room and helping teach and cultivate a culture that means something to us. It’s not him just barking that out; it’s rolling up his sleeves and developing the next wave of leaders in the Heat culture, and I just think that’s been amazing.”

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Udonis Haslem argues with Dwight Howard. Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Spoelstra, who called Haslem’s ejection his favorite moment of the season, said Haslem has made lasting impacts on young players and veterans alike.

“I’ve just enjoyed watching him evolve to this kind of mentorship. It’s felt by the young players, for sure. The young players are going to remember UD for the rest of their entire careers, but the veteran players, to me, he’s had just as much of an impact, developing them, keeping them stable, keeping them growing, and continuing to evolve, and that’s from his really incredible guidance that he can reach anybody in that locker room, and the staff.”

Former NBA big man Channing Frye recently explained on JJ Redick’s podcast “The Old Man and the Three” why teams need veterans – or “seat belts” – like Haslem.

“You’re undervaluing seat belts in a really expensive Ferrari,” Frye said. “Nobody ever cares that there’s seatbelts in a Ferrari, but Udonis Haslem is the seatbelt – if anything goes wrong, he locks them up … He is the guy when Jimmy Butler or Victor Oladipo wanna act crazy, he brings them back into the seat, so they’re connected, and the car don’t fly off the rails.”

Frye added: “You need to have someone who can be in [a young player’s] ear and be like, ‘Yo, that’s not right.'”

Redick agreed, saying the right respected voice can bring a team together.

“I’ve seen that again and again in my career where there’s a lot of talent, but the pieces don’t necessarily fit. The skill sets don’t fit, the personalities don’t fit,” Redick said. “You can go across the league and see where that’s happened, and if you don’t have that one or two guys to sort of bring everyone together, you’re not going to win at the highest level.”

In his book “KG: A to Z,” NBA Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett wrote that teams need to listen to “OGs” – the same nickname Jimmy Butler calls Haslem. Garnett wrote (via Basketball Network):

“This is why you talk to OGs. This is why OGs are in your locker room. This is how you get better. You do better by being around better … That’s why you always gotta show respect for the OGs – not just in the NBA but in any business.”

Haslem has earned the respect of all of the members of the Heat

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Udonis Haslem and Goran Dragic in March 2020. Wilfredo Lee/AP Images

Haslem wasn’t always an end-of-bench player making money to mentor his teammates.

Haslem, who is from Miami, went undrafted after playing at Florida. He played one season on a professional team in France, then made his way to the NBA through impressive workouts, catching the eyes of scouts.

In his first season with the Heat, he made $366,931 but averaged 7 points and 6 rebounds in 23 minutes per game.

Haslem has been with the Heat ever since. He started 80 games when they won the championship in 2006 and was a consistent role player on the “Big 3” Heat teams with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.

“I mean, hell, he’s from the town. Nobody gave him a shot, nobody gave him anything,” Bosh told The Ringer’s Andrew Sharp. “He came in, and he kicked enough ass to earn a spot, and now he’s one of the greatest athletes that Florida has ever seen.”

“He’s all about the organization. He’s all about the city,” Wade told Sharp. “And even now, his voice is just as big as it’s ever been. It’s crazy. Most guys that don’t play, they don’t have that kind of impact. But he has that respect. He has that impact on everyone. If you don’t like UD, something’s wrong with you.”

All-Star Heat center Bam Adebayo told Sharp that Haslem has mentored him, teaching him to work hard and be aggressive.

Former Heat forward Derrick Jones, now on the Portland Trail Blazers, told Sharp that Haslem commands respect through his experiences.

“Not even just from a basketball standpoint. He’s taken me under his wing. He owns businesses. Just sitting down and talking to him, seeing his perspective on life, it’s helped me out a lot. I’m still a young kid, but you have to have something to do after basketball. Him being able to take time out of his day to help me. … It’s something I hold dear to my heart.”

Haslem told reporters on Thursday that he hadn’t made up his mind on retiring. He said if it was his last game, it was a good way to go out.

Read the original article on Insider