Heat big man Kelly Olynyk was touched to learn that the Celtics, the franchise he spent his four years in the league with before signing a four-year, $50 million deal in Miami back in July, were honoring him Wednesday night with their Hero Among Us award, given out to individuals who have made an overwhelming impact on the lives of others in the Boston community.
The Celtics said it’s the first time an NBA player has been given the award, which is given out at every home game. A spokesman said the team gave former Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester the award back in 2009. He’s been the only other local athlete to receive it.
“I don’t know how many games you guys have spent up here in the past, but when you see the people that have received that award it’s a special group,” said Olynyk, who was making his first trip back to Boston since signing with the Heat and had to be convinced by the Celtics media relations staff to accept the award.
“Those people do extraordinary things, very unconventional things just to make their community a better place to live,” he continued. “Sometimes people are saving lives literally that receive these awards. Just to be in that category is an honor. For me, it’s something I’ve seen given out multiple times. The people in this community really embrace those people.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said honoring Olynyk was the perfect way to welcome him back to Boston.
Olynyk, 26, participated in many community service projects and much volunteer work during his time in Boston and has done the same since signing with the Heat.
On Thursday, Olynyk is going to Riverside Elementary School in Little Havana to visit with third-, fourth- and fifth-graders before the holiday break. A few other Heat players — including Udonis Haslem, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder and Hassan Whiteside — are also involved in other local holiday community service events.
“I loved getting in the community with kids whether it was at schools, different venues,” Olynyk said of his time in Boston. “Just trying to put a smile on someone’s face and make someone’s life that much better, when you have that power to improve somebody’s life whether it’s physically, mentally, emotionally, it’s something you should exercise that option and use that to just make this world a better place.”
The Heat, down to nine healthy players in Monday’s loss in Atlanta before it called up three-point specialist Matt Williams Jr. from its G-League affiliate on Tuesday, did not get any healthier in time for Wednesday night’s game.
Winslow was ruled out for the fourth consecutive game with a left knee strain at shootaround, and point guard Goran Dragic (left elbow strain) was ruled out for the second game in a row, a couple of hours before tip-off.
“Goran has proven he’ll play through a lot of different things,” Spoelstra said. “It’s his left elbow, so that’s going to be 80 percent of a lot of his offense. And if he doesn’t have enough mobility where he can shoot the ball and dribble under pressure, then the smart thing to do is just to keep on getting treatment.”
▪ Spoelstra said he still has no timeline for when Whiteside will return. The Heat’s $98 million center missed his 11th consecutive game with a bone bruise in his left knee and 16th overall.
“He’s doing more work. I’ve been texting him,” Spoelstra said before he was asked if Whiteside needed to go through a full contact practice before being cleared for a return. “I mean, ‘need,’ ‘want,’ all these things, I don’t know if those will be absolutely possible. I want a lot things. But he’s making progress. He’s doing a lot of conditioning. He’s doing a little bit more court work. I see that all as a great sign. And he’s feeling less pain and discomfort each day.”
▪ Spoelstra said forward James Johnson, who went down early in Saturday’s win over the Clippers and is expected to miss seven to 10 days, is doing “non-impact conditioning” and receiving treatment.
▪ The Heat has had seven players miss a combined 71 games due to injury entering Wednesday’s game. Spoelstra, however, doesn’t want that to become a crutch for the rest of the roster.
“This is a world we live in,” Spoelstra said. “Look around the league. It can be a lot worse. You have to deal with a lot of things in an 82-game season. Everybody goes through their moments at some point. We’re going through ours right now. We’re not making excuses for it.”