A defiant, angry Udonis Haslem has taken a flamethrower to critics who say he should retire to free up a Miami Heat roster spot for a player younger and more likely to contribute.
It calls into question what is meant by “contribute.”
Haslem, who just turned 39, doesn’t do that much of that in minutes or points anymore. Hasn’t the past four seasons. But his value as a locker room force and a mentor, though less quantifiable, has continued to be vital. When Pat Riley or Erik Spoelstra talk about “warriors” or Heat culture, invariably they start with the Miami-born “U.D.”
“It makes sense that most think I should retire at 39. Cause most would. Cause most are average minded,” Haslem wrote Monday morning in a long Instagram post accompanied by a photo of him in a gym, looking fit and working out. “Most don’t look like this at 39! Hell, they ain’t look like this at 19. LOL. I’m not saying I’m playing next year but if u with me then u will support whatever I do!! Not tell me what to do!!”
Clearly, Haslem’s self-confidence has not been eroded by playing in only 24 games during the past two seasons and averaging only six minutes and 1.4 points.
“You out your [bleeping] mind if you think I can’t still play this game,” he wrote. “I’ll sleepwalk into a double-double cause I’m just built different!! Y’all should know that by now but keep hating.”
Haslem becomes a free agent next week. Riley has kept open the possibility of the Heat re-signing him if he chooses to not retire, which in turn has caused many Heat fans on social media to say the team should move on from a veteran who now seldom plays.
“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and if I’m the weak link that’s a hell of a [bleeping] chain!!” he said.
The Heat wants to do right by Haslem, and that’s only fitting respect for a player whose No. 40 will be retired and hang from the rafters someday. With Dwyane Wade now retired, Haslem’s stature as living history has only grown.
The Heat wants Haslem to remain a part of the team. The only question is whether he remains as an active player. Whether in uniform or not, Riley envisions Haslem as a mentor and example of work ethic to younger players such as team’s two new draft picks. Riley also sees a coaching ability in Haslem worth developing.
Players age differently, and their roles on a team can be wildly different.
Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo, like Haslem, is a beloved, longtime member of the organization. But Luongo, at 40, is not the player he once was, and there is no disguising that in a goaltender.
Haslem at 39 is not the player he once was, but there is disguising that with any player at the end of an NBA bench. Teams typically go with an eigh-t or nine-man rotation, with the rest of the 15-man roster there in case of injuries or other emergency need.
Haslem is not hurting the team because whomever else was the 14th or 15th guy wouldn’t be playing much, either. (Miami may keep only 14 players, not the max 15, because they are already over the luxury-tax threshold).
The doubt of others always has fueled Haslem. He was not even drafted out of Floirida but has forged a 16-year career and still is the Heat’s all-time rebounds leader. Now, as his career wanes, he is motivated, but by those who want to kick him to the curb.
“Nobody ever expected [bleep] from a young fat kid from Liberty City,” he said. “Hell why would they? But I’m thankful they didn’t.”
Haslem has earned the respect and appreciation of Heat fans, and he has earned this:
The right to go out as he wishes, and when.