Miami Heat

Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside living large around the rim

Video: Hassan Whiteside talks about Heat's blowout of Bulls

Heat center Hassan Whiteside had a career high 26 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocks in a 129-111 win against Chicago on Tuesday, March 1, 2016. Video by Manny Navarro
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Heat center Hassan Whiteside had a career high 26 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocks in a 129-111 win against Chicago on Tuesday, March 1, 2016. Video by Manny Navarro

Hassan Whiteside already has the second-most blocks in a season in Heat history, and if he can somehow average a little under five per game over the next month he’ll pass Alonzo Mourning’s franchise record of 294 set in 1999-2000.

If Whiteside posts a 14th consecutive double-digit rebound game off the bench Thursday night against the Hornets, he’ll become the first player in NBA history to do so since starts became a recognized stat in 1970. His streak of six consecutive double-doubles off the bench, meanwhile, is the third-longest in the NBA in the past 30 years.

Those type of statistical accomplishments — as well as his drastically improved free-throw shooting since the All-Star break (he’s shooting 80.9 percent) — bring a smile to the 7-foot center’s face. But ask him what one of his biggest athletic accomplishments is to date and the kid inside the 26-year-old naturally comes out.

It’s the time he dunked on a 12-foot rim at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

“I actually have a picture of it on my Instagram,” Whiteside said last Saturday as the team prepared to play in Toronto. “It was the world record, done by one of the Harlem Globetrotters [Michael “Wild Thing” Wilson]. It was back when I was in the D-League about three years ago. They didn’t have the big basketballs there, so I just dunked one of the smaller balls. I just dunked that in my sweat pants and stuff. They didn’t think I could do it. If you look at it, it’s really high.”

I hated playing center … at first. Now I got used to it — once I learned I was a really good shot-blocker. [Alonzo Mourning] told me when he first met me he wished he had my length and athleticism.

Hassan Whiteside

While the NBA has turned into a bit of a three-point shooting contest, Whiteside, who wrestled and played receiver in the eighth and ninth grades before turning his focus to basketball, has come to love life around and above the rim.

He gets offended at the notion that centers can no longer dominate the game — even if he himself really didn’t like playing center at first in college.

“I hated playing center, couldn’t stand playing center at first,” Whiteside said. “Now I got used to it — once I learned I was a really good shot-blocker. [Mourning] told me when he first met me he wished he had my length and athleticism.”

Whiteside’s reach of 9-feet, 5-inches is the same as Shaquille O’Neal’s, according to DraftExpress.com, and Whiteside’s wingspan of 7-feet, 7-inches is a half-inch longer than Mourning’s, who told Whiteside this summer he needed to make it his goal to win Defensive Player of the Year this season.

“I don’t have really big hands for my height,” he said. “I kind of wish they were bigger.”

The only player whom Whiteside said he has come across with a longer wingspan and reach is Utah’s Rudy Gobert. Blessed with size-16 feet, Whiteside said he’s glad his feet aren’t bigger so he doesn’t trip over himself. His vertical leap — at last check as a rookie in 2010 — was between 34 and 35 inches, he said.

“It might be better or it might be worse now,” Whiteside said. “I’m not sure.”

It’s hard for his teammates to imagine it’s any worse. Whiteside’s freak athleticism draws raves from his teammates as much as it does the fans. His dunks especially.

His 119 dunks this season were tied for fifth in the league entering Wednesday night and rank eighth all-time in Heat history (O’Neal’s 255 in 2004-05 remain the most). Only four other Heat players — O’Neal, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Mourning — had posted more. The alley-oop slams are especially “game-changing,” rookie Josh Richardson said.

Whiteside has 51 of those, which were sixth-most in the league entering Wednesday.

“It’s kind of demoralizing for the other team, especially when it happens once or twice,” Richardson said of the Whiteside alley-oop slams. “They just have to change their whole game plan. I just notice the difference in us. It gets us running. Other teams have to guard us differently, things open up in the perimeter because teams start sinking in. It changes the whole complexion.”

The one he had last Friday in a come-from-behind win in Chicago on a high lob from point Goran Dragic was his most spectacular yet. He then had three in the final 12-plus minutes in Monday’s win over the Nuggets — including a pair from new teammate Joe Johnson, something they hadn’t even practiced yet. Wade said those dunks energize Whiteside on the defensive end.

“In the past I threw maybe two or three lobs my whole career,” Dragic said. “In the last month I already [have thrown] many more than that. Every time when we make the lob the crowd gets into it. You get the extra energy and you’re pumped. It’s the same as if you block somebody.”

Whiteside said he didn’t dunk for the first time on a 10-foot rim until he was 14. He started with a mini-basketball, moved onto “tennis shoes” and then a football before he finally slammed a regulation-sized ball on an alley-oop.

Now, he lives his life above and around the rim.

Manny Navarro: 305-376-3612, @Manny_Navarro

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