Okaro White is looking for a new nickname and a new winning streak to be a part of.
“I enjoyed it. It was a good run,” the 24-year-old rookie forward said after the Heat's 13-game winning streak was snapped Saturday night in Philadelphia, thus ending what had become the fan base’s social media rally cry during the streak at ‘13-Okaro.’
“It was good for the team, good for me also,” White continued. “We're just going to keep going. We got Orlando next and that’s all we can really focus on. I appreciate the fans and the fan base and everybody who kept that going.”
Shortly after White was called up from the D-League on Jan. 16, when the Heat launched the third-longest win streak in franchise history with a win over Houston, fans began referring to the team’s win streak on social media by the number of wins in the streak followed by Okaro’s first name. After it grew larger, his teammates began to embrace it, referring to White in the locker room as 9-Okaro, 10-Okaro as the wins kept piling up.
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“Being with these guys in the preseason, they’re winners in this locker room,” said White, who has averaged 4.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and earned himself a roster spot on the team after playing well during a pair of 10-day contracts in the middle of the streak. “Just to go on whatever we went on has been great since I got here. We’re just going to look forward to the next one.”
During the streak, the Heat went from having the second-worst record in the league and being 9 ½ games out of a playoff spot to pulling within a game of the Detroit Pistons for the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference before Saturday’s loss.
“It's easy to lose focus when you're 11-30,” center Hassan Whiteside said. “We fought extremely hard to get where we're at. So, we're going to keep fighting to get in the playoffs."
MEETING A LEGEND
Though the Heat didn’t win Saturday, Whiteside still walked out of Wells Fargo Arena with a smile on his face. He got to meet a fellow Marshall University legend – former Sixers guard Hal Greer – before the game.
“Everybody [at Marshall] knew who Hal Greer was. He’s got his own Boulevard,” said Whiteside, who played one season at Marshall before the Kings drafted him in the second round of the 2010 draft with the 33rd overall pick.
Greer, named one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players, was honored by the Sixers Saturday afternoon when a statue was erected outside the team’s practice facility in Camden, N.J. Before he was honored at Saturday’s game in front of Sixers fans, Whiteside 27, reached out and shook Greer’s hand moments before tip-off. It’s a thrill Whiteside wasn’t expecting.
“I had never met him before. I had just seen pictures of him, but I had never seen him in person,” Whiteside said of Greer. “It was cool. He knew who I was. He was like ‘Whiteside!’ I was like ‘Oh man, you know who I am?’ It was good man.”
Whiteside learned he and Greer have something in common beyond their connection at Marshall.
“We both jump at the free throw line,” Whiteside said. “Somebody told me. I didn't even know he did that until after I started doing it. It was cool man. I’m glad I finally got to meet him, shake his hand. He’s one of the top 50 greatest players of all time.”
MCGRUDER MAKES SPORTSCENTER
While Heat rookie Rodney McGruder has continued to elevate his game throughout the Heat’s second half turnaround, he made SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays Friday night for all the wrong reasons.
Brook Lopez’s vicious block of McGruder at the rim earned the top play of the day – and McGruder plenty of grief.
“A lot of people have been giving me a hard time about it, a lot of friends, family,” McGruder said prior to tip-off Saturday. “It is what it is. I took the criticism like a man.”
What did he think of Lopez’s block?
“No call, so I guess it was clean,” McGruder said. “I can't complain. The refs did a great job. No complaints.”
WAITERS EMPATHIZES WITH EMBIID
The hot storyline in Philly prior to Saturday’s game surrounded the video captured earlier this week of rookie center Joel Embiid dancing shirtless on stage at the concert of rapper Meek Mill even though Embiid has been out of action for the Sixers because of a knee injury.
Though Sixers president Jerry Colangelo confirmed a report Saturday night that Embiid has a slight tear in his left meniscus, the rookie’s actions at the concert still created a small, public firestorm for the Sixers. Coach Brett Brown said he had a talk with Embiid about it and the franchise explained to him the conflict his actions created.
Oddly enough, Heat guard and Philly native Dion Waiters found a way to relate and empathize with Embiid.
“That happened to me before. I had an injury and we won a game in Cleveland and I danced after we won,” Waiters said. “[The Cavs] said, `Take that [video] down.’ It wasn’t like I was on stage taking my shirt off or nothing. But…
“He’s young. You’ve got to learn the hard way,” Waiters, 25, continued. “He’s having fun. He probably just got caught up. You learn from all that.”