Minutes before tipoff on Wednesday night, Udonis Haslem wished the crowd at AmericanAirlines Arena a happy Thanksgiving on behalf of the Miami Heat.
The fans applauded in gracious holiday form, but more fittingly because this man was on the verge of doing something special in his hometown against the Milwaukee Bucks.
“Zo, I’m sorry but it’s over,” Dwyane Wade said earlier in the day, anticipating that a minute is all it would take for his longtime teammate to surpass Alonzo Mourning as the all-time franchise leader in rebounds.
At 2:37 of the first quarter, with the Heat leading 22-13, Haslem, 32, quietly made his mark on the Heat’s history with his second rebound of the game. He surpassed Mourning with 4,808. By the end of the game, he would add six more.
“I don’t know how much he’s going to say ... How much he’s going to show, but it’s something that’s important to him,” Wade said. “It’s something that’s going to live with him for a long time.”
When the clock stopped for a free throw and the announcer marked the milestone, Haslem acknowledged the sold-out crowd of 19,971 with a small wave.
Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Heat in 2003, his success during the past last decade with the team is unprecedented. Said LeBron James, ‘to get in is one thing, but to stay is another,’ a testament to the character of his teammate.
“He’s not your typical leading franchise rebound guy, I think it’s just amazing what he’s done,” Heat center Chris Bosh said. “He’s a relentless rebounder, a great defender, a great leader. We couldn’t do what we do without him.”
Haslem’s Heat teammates looked up at the scoreboard at the end of the first quarter. A short tribute paid respect to the storied career of the Miami native. He was looking the other way, paying attention to what coach Erik Spoelstra had on his clipboard.
“[Haslem] means everything to the city,” James said. “Guys are always trying to compare people’s height and things of that nature, but it’s about the determination and the will that someone has inside them, the war mentality that ... allows them to succeed.”
As Wade predicted, at the end of the Heat’s 113-106 overtime win, his co-captain’s focus was on his team. The magnitude of his personal accomplishments in the game secondary to the energy of a hard-fought battle against the Bucks.
“He really had to work for those first two rebounds, and the next two fell into his hands,” Spoelstra said after the game.