For the Heat, the most important and meaningful thing to happen at Barclays Center on Thursday night was neither a preseason loss to the Nets nor hard fouls by Paul Pierce on LeBron James
No, the Heat didn’t start to care until after the game.
Unmoved by their 86-62 defeat to the Brooklyn Nets, the team walked into the visiting locker room to discover on a large and shiny flat-screen TV that the University of Miami football team was losing to North Carolina by three points with time running out.
Udonis Haslem, whose devotion to Hurricanes football runs deep, was already positioned directly in front of the action.
It was clear that Haslem wasn’t moving or doing any postgame interviews until after the football game. And, quite obviously, if the Canes didn’t come back, it’s not like there was a reporter in the locker room with enough guts to approach the scowling Haslem anyway.
“All these slow developing plays,” Haslem said to a reporter also watching the game. “Just run it downhill.”
As if on cue, Canes running back Dallas Crawford lowered his head on the next play and barreled through a North Carolina defender for a first down. Haslem, whose nicknames are “U.D.” and “Mr. 305” knows his Canes football.
“There we go,” said Haslem, who has lost a few pounds this past week while struggling with a stomach bug.
Sensing Haslem’s angst, James tried to add some levity to the tension. James walked over to the TV and, while looking for the on/off button, jokingly said, “Man, how do you turn this thing off?”
Haslem was not amused, and James, a fan of Ohio State, slowly backed away.
Minutes later, Crawford capped off the Canes’ dramatic 90-yard drive when he slammed his way across the goal line for the game-winning touchdown. Always subdued, Haslem celebrated the score in the same cool way he reacts to everything. Which is to say, Haslem didn’t react at all. He simply got up from his chair and returned to the daily grind of preseason basketball.
As Haslem rose from his chair, Chris Bosh smiled nearby and said, “You can breath now U.D.”
While the Heat was busy cheering on the Canes after Thursday’s game, the Nets players were being asked about James’ recent comments about Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The regular season is still more than a week away, but the war of words between old foes is already in midseason form.
James suggested on Wednesday that Pierce and Garnett were hypocrites for criticizing former Celtic Ray Allen for joining the Heat last season then turning around and leaving Boston one season later.
“Tell LeBron to worry about Miami,” Garnett said. “It has nothing to do with Celtic business.”
On Wednesday, James said “the first thing” he thought of when Pierce and Garnett left for Brooklyn was “Ray got killed for leaving Boston, and now these guys are leaving Boston.”
Allen left as a free agent whereas Pierce and Garnett were traded. Garnett, though, did waive his no-trade clause to facilitate the deal. The summer’s blockbuster trade came after former Celtics coach Doc Rivers left Boston for the Los Angeles Clippers.
“That’s the nature of our business, man,” James said. “I don’t know what Boston was going through at the end of the day. I know Ray had to make the best decision for him and his family and his career. Doc, KG and Paul did that as well.
“You can’t criticize someone who does something that’s best for their family."
This and that• Heat forward Justin Hamilton, who left Thursday’s game with an injury to the face, confirmed to the Miami Herald that he broke his nose during the game.
• Dwyane Wade’s Li-Ning shoes will go on sale beginning at 7 p.m. on Saturday at James’ retail store UNKNWN, which is located in Aventura Mall. A launch party is planned.