On June 20th 2013, confetti rained from the rafters of the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida. As the crowed screeched and the San Antonio Spurs disappeared from the court, one Miami Player limped as he celebrated his third NBA championship. That player was Udonis Haslem, co-captain of the Miami Heat, and the undrafted power forward from the University of Florida. The only player besides Dwyane Wade who remains a part of the team from the 2006 title run. The warrior who played since half the NBA season with a torn meniscus.
Nevertheless the injury didn't seem to faze the Florida native as he celebrated the Game 7 victory:
"I would have never guessed it," "Undrafted, going overseas, I worked, man. I gave it my heart, my soul, sacrificed. And it all just paid off. I'm thankful. I'm blessed. I'm very blessed."
Born and raised in Miami, the thirty-three year old has worked extremely hard to achieve success. While he was a Florida Gator star along with now-Heat teammate Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem's destiny seemed to veer off course when it came time to play professionally. While Mike Miller went on to win Rookie of the Year and leave Florida early, Udonis Haslem stayed all four years with the Gators and his draft stock plummeted. Haslem, became overweight, and his game fell with him. He wasn't the same player he had once been, and his NBA dreams grew dimmer. Haslem decided to play in France and in doing so lost seventy pounds, and was later picked up by the Miami Heat in 2003. Udonis has been here ever since, and has no plans on leaving as made evident by his decision to take less money and stay with the Heat in 2010.
Haslem has been an integral part to the Heat's success for years now. While at times however, he falls beneath the radar, he still does whatever it takes to make an impact. This season in 18.8 minutes of 75 games played, Haslem averaged 5.4 rebounds and 4.0 points per game, a respectable stat line considering the depth of Miami's bench and the injury that had been plaguing him for over half the season. Nevertheless, Haslem came up big in moments for Miami during the post-season, most notably his 16-point performance to take Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. He also played commendable defense against Tim Duncan despite his limited playing time in the Finals.
It is moments like this that make Haslem irreplaceable. While unfortunately he has to undergo surgery this coming summer, this is just a small pitfall for Haslem, who has fought tooth and nail for relevance since joining the Heat. While this recovery will take time, Udonis is determined to demonstrate the hard work and perseverance it takes to come back stronger, and show respect to the tattoo of Florida he has on his back. Haslem embodies the working class lifestyle that many Floridians experience on a daily basis, and while injuries and set backs continue to fall in his path, it's his warrior's spirit that makes him a champion.