Jonathan Vilma won a national championship with the Hurricanes and a Super Bowl in Miami with the Saints, but he said being inducted into the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Sports Hall of Champions was satisfying on a whole new level.
Vilma, who played linebacker at Coral Gables High, said he became a football fan when he started watching Hurricanes games when he was 8.
Any thoughts about giving up football for basketball was put away when fellow inductee Udonis Haslem dominated him while at Miami High.
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When thanking his parents, Vilma mentioned that his father has attended every football game that he played since high school.
Vilma, along with Haslem and U.S. women’s soccer coach Jill Ellis, were inducted into Miami’s Hall of Champions Tuesday at Marlins Park.
The late Jimmy Evert was given an award for Lifetime contribution.
Haslem was introduced as “the original Mr. 305.”
Born in Miami, Haslem led the Stingarees to a pair of state basketball championships before heading off to the University of Florida.
Haslem is best known locally for his run with the Miami Heat as he is now the longest tenured player in franchise history and has won three NBA championships with the team.
Haslem told the audience that, growing up in the inner city, he never crossed the bridge into South Beach. He also told the crowd, “the only way I walk away from the game is when my fight is over.”
Evert’s award was presented first.
Chris Evert, a 2015 Hall of Champions inductee, accepted the award in her father’s honor. Jimmy Evert passed away last August at 91.
“He gave tons of lessons, strung every racket that was presented to him, did all the sign-ins, and he would get up early to work all the courts,” Chris Evert told the crowd.
“He turned [Fort Lauderdale’s] Holiday Park from a small public tennis park into the mecca of tennis in the seventies.”
In 1997, Holiday Park was renamed the Jimmy Evert Tennis Center.
Jill Ellis moved to Miami in with her wife Betsy Stephenson and their daughter Lily in 2014.
Ellis coached the U.S. women’s national soccer team to the 2015 World Cup championship. She was named the 2015 FIFA World Coach of the Year for women’s soccer, the first American to win that award.
After all the speeches had been given, all four honorees assembled on stage for a Q-and-A session hosted by longtime Heat announcer and emcee Eric Reid.
Vilma told Reid he had locked his Super Bowl ring in a safe because he wanted to be focused on winning another one. He then gestured towards Haslem, saying, “If I wear one, he’s going to bring out three!”
Haslem said that although he played for the Gators, he remains a huge Hurricanes fan leading loud applause.