During the Miami Heat's visit in San Antonio for their game against the San Antonio Spurs, head coach Gregg Popovich offered a little-known insight about how Udonis Haslem wound up becoming "Mr. 305" instead "Mr. 210."
"He was here, we had him, we loved him," Popovich said. "There was just no room. He left and found a great home, obviously, but those stories are all over the league, where it's just got to be the right fit. If you're not the superstar, if you're the guy coming in and you need some work and you need to do A, B and C, then you're going to be a good player for a long time. And he was one of those guys."
After four years at the University of Florida, Haslem joined the Atlanta Hawks’ Summer League team in 2002. Failing to draw any interest from NBA teams due to his weight problem, Udonis signed with a French professional basketball team, Chalon-Sur-Saône, for a season.
He returned to Summer League action in 2003 as a member of two teams, the Heat in Orlando, where he played with Dwyane Wade and Caron Butler, and faced the then rookie LeBron James, and afterwards for the Spurs’ SL team in Boston.
"Most recently, Haslem spent parts of the summer with both the HEAT's entry in the Pepsi Pro Summer League in Orlando and the San Antonio Spurs' entry in the Reebok Pro summer League in Boston. With the HEAT, Haslem averaged 6.6 points and ranked third in the league with 7.0 rebounds per game in five appearances. With the Spurs he averaged 9.7 points and 7.7 rebounds in six games played."
Both teams offered Udonis contracts for the upcoming season. The Heat announcers revealed what may have been the deciding factor in Haslem’s decision to sign with the Heat: the Spurs offered him a partially guaranteed contract for the upcoming season, while the Heat offered him a partially guaranteed deal for two seasons. Udonis picked the package from Miami and returned home to his South Floridian roots.
An interesting note is Haslem's hatred of French cuisine may been part of reason that Udonis got into the playing condition necessary to compete in the NBA. Wikipedia writes,
"After leaving Florida in 2002, his weight ballooned in excess of 300 pounds. Haslem then signed with Chalon-Sur-Saône, a professional team in France. While averaging 16.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, Haslem also managed to lose 70 pounds over the course of that year, which resulted in him earning a spot in the NBA summer league."
"When he arrived on French soil, he was pushing 300 pounds. But while there, he stopped working out, ate only one meal a day and only McDonald’s because he abhorred the local food."
"Thorpe recalls the first time he saw Haslem after he briefly returned from France to attend a Gators football game. Haslem had lost 50 pounds in eight months."
Erik Spoelstra couldn't believe his eyes when the trimmed down version of Haslem showed up after his self-imposed McDonalds diet.
“I’ll never forget the first day he walked into our gym, he just got back from France,” Spoelstra said. “None of us recognized him, didn’t know who he was. All of us had the same reaction: Where’s Udonis Haslem? That’s him. What? It looked like he lost a person.”
The lost weight and a relentless work ethic helped Udonis fix his biggest problem in his college career: rebounding. As his high school coach Frank Martin recalls,
“That was one of my biggest challenges with him; he couldn’t rebound,” Martin said. “He had maybe six rebounds a game. They told him that the biggest reason why he wasn’t drafted was because he couldn’t rebound.”
In another article Martin recalls what it took to motivate Haslem into becoming an elite rebounder.
"Martin did not appreciate apathy. To him, natural skills mixed with developed ones were the lottery combination. Haslem possessed the former, but not the latter."
“He was content to stand there and if the ball came to him, he would get it,” Martin said. “If it didn’t, it didn’t.”
"If Haslem did not work to create more space, Martin instructed the guards not to pass the ball inside to Haslem. If Haslem did not rebound, he instructed the guards not to give him the ball. If the guard passed Haslem the ball and Martin did not think Haslem deserved it, the passer was punished with wind sprints."
“But it made me work,” he [Haslem] added. “It really made me work. He was the first guy to push me that hard, because everything just came so naturally, so early.”
Fortunately for the Heat, Haslem chose Miami as his path to the NBA Finals and two championships. From dining only on McDonalds in France, which is considered the world’s leader in gourmet cooking, to selecting which of Miami's glamorous hot spots to go for dinner, one part of Udonis never changes: his passion for fast-food that got him into shape for the NBA.
Miami Heat’s star forward and team captain Udonis Haslem, who along with his JFC Miami business partner Ramona D. Hall, is set to open two Einstein Bros. Bagels and two Starbucks locations in The Magic City. The new franchise outlets add to Haslem’s portfolio that includes five Subway sandwich shops and two Auntie Anne’s.