Heat Check

Why this Thanksgiving is extra special for Heat’s James Johnson

Miami Heat forward James Johnson reacts after dunking against the Pacers in the first quarter at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017.
Miami Heat forward James Johnson reacts after dunking against the Pacers in the first quarter at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. pportal@miamiherald.com

With all the weight he’s lost and body fat he’s trimmed since joining the Miami Heat last season, James Johnson isn’t looking to stray off his healthy path this Thanksgiving — no matter how tempting it might be.

“I like cranberry and stuffing of course, when [Heat assistant strength and conditioning coach] Eric Foran is not around,” Johnson said with a grin last Friday before the Heat’s most impressive win of the season at Washington. “It’s not too bad. They just portion you out. So Thanksgiving is not like it used to be.”

Although his Thanksgiving won’t be as tasty as those in the past, this one is still extra special for Johnson. Not only is he thankful for the four-year, $60 million deal he signed this summer to take care of his family for years to come, but he’s also expecting the birth of his third child — another boy.

“I’ve got two boys ages 4 and 1,” Johnson said. “That’s why we ultimately play, to take care of your family, to live a blessed life and do something you love to do in the process.”

Johnson had 20 points in the 91-88 win at Washington. Nov. 17, 2017. Video by Manny Navarro

The due date, Johnson said, is Nov. 30. That’s the day after the Heat are set to complete their upcoming four-game road trip against the Knicks.

Earlier this month, Dion Waiters became a father for the second time. Waiters returned home from a road trip and missed two games for the birth of his first daughter.


Before Hassan Whiteside hosted several teammates — including Rodney McGruder and rookie Bam Adebayo — at his home Tuesday night for an early Thanksgiving dinner, Miami’s $98 million center and his teammates handed out turkeys and other goods to 600 local underprivileged families at the Miami Rescue Mission. It’s the 26th year in a row that the Heat has held its Thanksgiving Celebration event with players, coaches and staffers attending.

“I just came back from giving out turkeys, about 1,000 turkeys, it’s about giving back, man,” Whiteside said on his Snapchat account. “It’s bigger than basketball, giving back to people who don’t have as much as you. That’s what Thanksgiving is really about. There’s always somebody who wished they had what you had or wished they had something more. That’s what it’s about.”

▪  With the Heat leaving for Minnesota on Thursday afternoon, this marks the third consecutive season the team has been on the road for Thanksgiving. Being away from the family during the holidays is something 15-year veteran Udonis Haslem said he got used to long ago — especially with the Heat playing so many games over the years on Christmas.

“One year I think I was home, but I think I was injured so that was no fun,” Haslem said. “When you’re home and you’re not playing you wish you were playing. I guess you’re never happy.”

The Heat will be home for Christmas this year, but are not on the schedule to play for the second year in a row.

▪  Haslem said the one day a year he eats freely is Thanksgiving.

“The only thing I don’t eat is pork,” Haslem said. “I’m a mostly turkey guy. I like it fried. I’m a dressing guy, too, macaroni and cheese, collard greens. It’s the one day I get out of my dietary situation to indulge. I definitely think anything in moderation is OK.”

Moderation isn’t a word Adebayo is familiar with on Thanksgiving. His mother, who worked on a meat farm, has always served up bountiful meals on Thanksgiving.

“Man I eat everything,” Adebayo said. “Ham, turkey, pork. My favorite dish is probably banana pudding. I love baked ziti, sweet potato pie.”

But Adebayo said his mother, who lives in an apartment below his near AmericanAirlines Arena, was heading back home to North Carolina for Thanksgiving.

“She’s going to leave me at home eating Hot Pockets,” Adebayo joked.

Related stories from Miami Herald