Portrait and street photography, mountainbiking, coffee and music. #Fujifilm X-system happy user.
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What’s Happening

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ornaled
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Flood

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Kelly told me the first two panels were a bit much, but so far I haven't been struck by lightning, so I think we're good.


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SMBC God never fails to amuse.
Ann Arbor MI

The Past, Future, and Playful Collide in Digital Collages by Anonymous Duo Frank Moth

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All images © Frank Moth, shared with permission

The anonymous pair behind  Frank Moth (previously) characterize their layered digital collages as “nostalgic postcards from the future.” Using vintage photographs, the artistic duo merges retro visuals with natural elements like botanics and outer space to create playful composites that range from futuristic to romantic. “Our work almost always revolves around introspection, soul searching, and universal themes like eternity and human vices,” they share with Colossal.

Based in Veria, Greece, the pair sources images of tropical plants and starry expanses from a variety of sources, including library and museum databases and other photograph-centered websites that offer copyright-free works. “We still have our own huge inventory of images that we have been growing and expanding for many years, after endless digging and searching in databases of very old photos and scanned clippings of old magazines from the 60s and 70s,” they say.

Pick up one of Frank Moth’s prints from Society6, and follow the latest digital assemblages on Instagram and Tumblr.

 

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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Surprise

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The so-called Surprise Test Paradox can be resolved by delivering it one second after midnight on the last day of the week.


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This nine-year chasm

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Nine years ago today, Steve Jobs passed away. I don’t know about you, but I still feel the void he left behind.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you already know I’ve always preferred the way Jobs led Apple over the way Cook has been leading the company since he became CEO. This is entirely personal preferences’ territory, and I’m not asking you to agree with me or feel what I feel. This thinking-out-loud post you’re reading is just made of feelings and impressions, not of points to be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ about.

Apple is undeniably in great health today. When Steve left us, I remember reading a lot of drivel about Apple being irremediably doomed now that its charismatic, visionary founder had died. I never believed that for a second. I knew Apple was in good hands, because the team of executives was made of very capable people.

There’s no denying that Tim Cook has done a stellar job in keeping the huge Apple ship afloat. Whenever I discuss Cook’s Apple versus Jobs’s Apple, the common ground I find with people who disagree with me is that they’re both great Apples in different ways. And I genuinely believe that.

But… I don’t like Cook’s Apple.

Since I became an Apple user back in 1989, I’ve always felt there was more to it than just being a returning customer of a tech company. There was a sense of belonging to a common set of principles that went against the mainstream. That was extremely appealing for someone like me who always moved countercurrent to everything. There were the Mac user groups, places (whether physical or online) to share a passion with like-minded people. There was the idea of ‘thinking differently’ way before it was formalised in 1997 by Apple itself. Apple products weren’t just computers and peripherals, but specialised tools made for people with a creative, think-out-of-the-box mindset.

We Mac users were a minority, but we all had that tongue-in-cheek snobbism, like, We’re the cool guys, we’re the tech élite. But even in my years as an informal Apple evangelist, I never tricked anybody into leaving Windows and PCs behind and become Apple users because I was conditioned or because I was a thoughtless zealot who kept interfering with others’ work to the tune of “Get a Macintosh, you fool!” When someone asked me for technical advice, I first tried to help them out with whatever platform they were using. If I noticed that what they were trying to accomplish would have been better achieved by using a Macintosh, then I suggested it, explaining the different approach and the logic behind the Mac user interface, et cetera. If they decided to ‘switch’, then I would help them out in any way I could. Other fellow evangelists were less respectful. But I’m starting to digress.

When Apple was on the brink of bankruptcy in the mid-1990s, that sense of community grew even stronger. We Mac users were on this metaphorical Titanic, worried sick about the future of the company and our beloved machines, trying to stick together and help one another. The first emails I’ve ever written were about giving people advice on which Mac software and hardware to get (and where), to make the Macs they were currently using as future-proof as possible in case Apple went away. Looking back, those were really thrilling times.

But then Apple acquired NeXT, and shortly after Steve Jobs was back, and shortly after came the iMac, the iBook… even more thrilling times. And Jobs’s way of bringing Apple from almost-bankruptcy to exceptional success, the way he commandeered the ship and the way he led it from that moment on, truly reinforced that sense of belonging, that feeling of participation — as an Apple user — to that amazing Underdog’s tale.

Ever since Steve Jobs passed away, that something special of being an Apple user has quickly faded away. The thrill is gone. Cook’s Apple is an all-business money machine I feel less and less attached to. When Apple was at that intersection of technology and liberal arts Steve talked about, I was there. I recognised myself. Jobs’s Apple was a company that wasn’t made uniquely of tech-heads and led by business people, but a place where incredible design and masterful engineering met, a place led by a man who was eclectic enough to understand both fields intimately and get the product formulas right so very often. He put his soul in the products he envisaged. He put the fun element. He was the only one who could get away with using the word ‘magic’ in his presentations — because he gave meaning to it. He was the first to be amazed by the final product when he introduced it on stage. I’ve said it countless times, but there was a genuineness in Steve’s presentations that betrayed his underlying passion. And that passion was contagious.

Whenever he went a little off-script to talk about Apple’s values and Apple’s way of doing things, you knew he was all-in, you knew it wasn’t just empty, corporate talk you often hear when company executives harp on about their company’s ‘mission’. Steve’s legacy is a bunch of executives with contrived, unconvincing smiles, parroting phrases from the Good Book of Apple at every keynote and event. They go through the motions, they present their homework, and that’s it. Today, whenever I see a keynote segment end, I’m always left with the feeling that the presenter will immediately stop smiling as soon as they’re off camera, instead breathing a sigh of relief that their part is over. The show is over.

Despite those still bringing up Antennagate whenever you discuss Jobs’s style of leadership, Jobs’s Apple had more respect for its customers and developers than today’s Apple.

I’ve already brought this up in a 2016 post, but since I like my readers to stay on the page instead of constantly following external links, I’ll re-publish this entirely, because it bears repeating. In the last part of Jobs’s keynote at Macworld Expo in San Francisco in 2000 (a milestone, since it’s when Mac OS X was first introduced), before the ‘one more thing’ segment, Jobs took a moment to talk a bit about ‘The big picture’, and about what makes Apple, Apple:

I want to zoom out and talk about the big picture of how we see all of these things play together. You know, I remember two and a half years ago when I got back to Apple, there were people throwing spears saying “Apple is the last vertically integrated personal computer manufacturer, it should be broken up into a hardware company, a software company, what have you,” and— it’s true, that Apple is the last company in our industry that makes the whole widget, but what that also means [is that] if managed properly, it’s the last company in our industry that can take responsibility for customer experience. There’s nobody left!

And it also means that we don’t have to get ten companies in a room to agree on everything to innovate. We can decide ourselves to place our bets like we did for USB on the original iMac; hardware — let’s build it in; software — let’s build it in; marketing — let’s go evangelise it to the developers and tell our customers why it’s better. And let’s not wait three years for an agreement — and now Apple is leading in USB. Desktop movies — let’s take our hardware and put FireWire ports in iMac, let’s write applications called iMovie that take advantage of QuickTime and allow us to do these things, and let’s go market it, so people can understand this and see how easy it is to use. There’s no other company left in this industry that can bring innovation to the marketplace like Apple can.

So, we really care deeply about the hardware, we think this is where everything starts, and we got again the finest hardware lineup in Apple’s history. We’re so proud of these products. But we also do software at Apple. Again, we own the second-highest-volume operating system in the world and one of only two high-volume operating systems in the world. We make a lot of other software: Mac OS X coming, iMovie, et cetera. And the greatest thing is when we put them together, and we integrate them, like the examples I just gave you, like iMovie and the new iMacs, seamlessly integrated into desktop movies. Another example is AirPort, where we could seamlessly integrate this whole new wireless networking technology into our OS, so when you plug in an AirPort card in your iBook you don’t have to spend half an hour flipping settings. It just — boom! — pops to life and works.

This is the kind of innovation we can bring through this integration. And now we’re adding Internet stuff. We got our first four iTools today, that wouldn’t be possible if we couldn’t take unfair advantage of the fact that we supplied OS 9, the client operating system, and so that our servers and our clients could work together in a more intimate way than anyone else can do. And so we’re gonna integrate these things together in ways that no one else in this industry can do, to provide a seamless user experience where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And we’re the last guys left in this industry that can do it. And that’s what we’re about.

These are words from someone who wants to build something that is better for everybody involved — and he fucking means it. And this is also the core of a certain culture which, unfortunately, has been crumbling at and around Apple since he passed away. A culture where customers feel they’re respected and take care of, where developers feel motivated, inspired, and incentivised to play their part in this big picture. Just read Jesper’s recent piece titled Home to better understand what I’m talking about.

Jobs and his Apple cared for the products but also the whole experience surrounding them. They had to be superior products not because they simply exude a ‘premium feel’ and superficial prettiness. But because what drives them — the software, the user interface — is as essential to the whole experience as the hardware. Today, does Apple still “take responsibility for customer experience”? Does Apple provide today a “seamless user experience where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”? I don’t feel that. The user experience is not seamless, and the whole is a sleek clash of all of its parts. If Apple cared about customer experience, they wouldn’t have taken four years to rectify the disaster that was the MacBook keyboard’s butterfly mechanism.

Today’s Apple is business first, engineering second, design third. It’s led by someone who has no charisma or vision. Hey, nothing wrong with that, but a smart move would be to keep those who possess both such traits close to yourself instead of pushing them away (people like Jonathan Ive and Scott Forstall, for example). Today’s Apple is ‘team effort’. It’s a very well maintained entity by many capable maintainers who have perfected the art of iterating, at least as far as hardware is concerned. But where are the architects?

Software-wise, especially when it comes to Mac OS, I don’t see any. Those who are in software design seem to have forgotten how to make a great operating system with a well-crafted, thoughtful user interface. I don’t feel a strong direction here; just repeated attempts and a visible trial-and-error approach. And I totally share John Gruber’s concern when he writes:

My biggest question and deepest concern regarding Apple’s leadership, especially now that Ive is gone and Phil Schiller has moved on to a fellowship with only the App Store and events on his plate, is whose taste is driving product development? We know the actors, we know the writers, we know the cinematographers, but who is directing? Who is saying “This isn’t good enough” — or in the words of Apple’s former director, “This is shit”? When a product decision comes down to this or that, who is making that call?

As I’ve repeatedly stated in my observations about Big Sur now that I’ve been testing the betas since August, the next version of Mac OS shines when it comes to performance, responsiveness, and stability — that’s my experience, at least — but when we examine the look and feel of its user interface, it mostly feels directionless. Where is the purpose? Why these changes? Is it to make the interface more usable? Is it to make that interaction work better or to make that element just look sleeker? It’s often hard to see the intention or even the logic behind some of them. The background colour of the System Preferences pane has subtly changed at least three times in the course of five betas. Things you used to make with one click, now take two or more clicks, just because someone at Apple felt like touching up a certain part of the interface for no apparent reason other than ‘trying something different’ or ‘fixing a previous, equally arbitrary cosmetic change’.

Today’s Apple is led by an expert in supply chain management. And that’s how Apple treats their developers — like cogs in the supply chain. And customers? The goal with customers seems to be to maximise the lock-in. From the Catalina issues mail folder with all the feedback I’ve received over the past months, I could extrapolate hundreds of stories of customers who are still using Apple products not because “There’s nothing better, man” or because “Apple gets me, so of course I’m using Mac” — responses I used to hear all the time back in the old days — but because “Eh, today Apple’s the lesser evil”, or “I’m too deep in Apple’s ecosystem to even begin thinking about alternatives”, or “If it weren’t for [app x] that’s my favourite tool for [task y], I would have switched to Windows already”.

Now, before the keyboard warriors start sending me hate mail, let me reiterate a point I made earlier. I recognise and acknowledge all the good products and the good initiatives and the positive stances that are coming from Apple today. I still use plenty of Apple products and I still trust Apple more than other tech companies especially due to the importance Apple is giving to privacy. And…

(let me copy & paste this bit from the beginning of this piece)

…There’s no denying that Tim Cook has done a stellar job in keeping the huge Apple ship afloat. Whenever I discuss Cook’s Apple versus Jobs’s Apple, the common ground I find with people who disagree with me is that they’re both great Apples in different ways. And I genuinely believe that.

But… I don’t like Cook’s Apple.

The void Steve Jobs left behind nine years ago is not limited to Apple, but extends to the whole tech industry. Things today are okay — there is still the occasional product or innovation that enthuses me, of course. For certain aspects I find Microsoft — Microsoft! — to be a more daring and interesting player. But without the colourful, rebellious spot that was Jobs’s Apple, the current technology landscape feels desaturated and mostly ’corporate’, if you feel what I feel.

Technology alone is not enough, the man said. But in this sort of post-apocalyptic tech landscape, technology seems to be all that’s left.

Steve Jobs at WWDC 2006

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The Legend of Udonis Haslem

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Efi Chalikopoulou

When people talk about “Heat culture,” they’re talking about UD, the no-nonsense, hard-charging Miami native who has been the heart and soul of the franchise for the past 17 seasons. Bigger stars have suited up for the Heat, but no one with a bigger heart than Haslem, who has been the through line from day one with Dwyane, to the glue of the Big Three, to the sage leader of the team that just crashed the Finals.

The vast majority of sports legends are so successful that their place in history is almost self-explanatory. There are others, though, who resonate for reasons that are harder to articulate. They’re known less for what they did than how they did it. These athletes generally won’t make the Hall of Fame, but they’re remembered forever by anyone who happened to be paying attention.

Udonis Haslem is in that second category. A Miami native, he’s spent each of his 17 NBA seasons with the Heat. He began his career as an undrafted tweener who lost 50 pounds on his way into the league. A few years later, he was a starter on a title team. A few years after that, he was the glue guy for the most infamous dynasty in sports. Today the three-time NBA champion almost never leaves the bench, but talk to anyone associated with the Heat, and they’ll use reverential tones to describe the man known as “UD” throughout South Florida. “He’s Mr. 305, man,” says Heat president Pat Riley. “He’s Liberty City. He’s Miami.”

“The pro he is,” says Chris Bosh. “The man he is. I mean, hell, he’s from the town. Nobody gave him a shot, nobody gave him anything. He came in and he kicked enough ass to earn a spot, and now he’s one of the greatest athletes that Florida has ever seen.”

“The biggest thing,” Dwyane Wade says, “is that he’s all about the organization. He’s all about the city. And even now, his voice is just as big as it’s ever been. It’s crazy. Most guys that don’t play, they don’t have that kind of impact. But he has that respect. He has that impact on everyone. If you don’t like UD, something’s wrong with you.”

As you may have heard, the Heat are having a moment. Fresh off a five-game upset of the top-seeded Bucks and six games against the Celtics, Miami is on the way to its first NBA Finals appearance since 2014. But even as the team has been revitalized by Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, and a new generation of stars, Haslem remains central as a connection to the past. “He’s not playing,” Goran Dragic said recently. “But he’s here to give his knowledge to young players. Like Kendrick Nunn, and Bam [Adebayo], and Tyler [Herro]. And I mean, he could already go to the, how you say? Sunset? He won championship rings. But he’s still here, man. He’s here for others. And for me, to be next to him and to watch, I want to be the same.”

When the NBA shut down on March 11, the Heat were one of the few teams that kept the majority of its players at home in Miami. Throughout those weeks and months, Haslem was one of the players who made sure the team stayed connected. “Bam was at my house every day,” he says. “I spent time with my guys. I had time to pull up on Herro. Duncan [Robinson] was over at my house. D-Jones. So maybe I broke the [social distancing] rules a little bit, but I’m the older guy, and I just wanted to stay connected. A lot of these guys are just starting their careers, they’re away from their families. It can be a lonely time.” Plus, Haslem adds: “Can’t nothing happen in Miami without me knowing about it. So whatever they’re doing out there, I’m going to hear about it.”

In Orlando, before the Heat took a 3-0 lead to stun the Bucks in the second round, the team was down 12 points entering the fourth quarter of Game 3. “UD was the one controlling the huddles,” Erik Spoelstra said of that stretch. Adebayo added, “UD pulled me and Jimmy [Butler] aside and said we need to be the best players on the court.” The scene repeated itself against Boston in Game 5, when ESPN cameras caught Haslem coaching up his teammates midway through the second half.

As Haslem explains: “These guys trust me. Not just because of what I’ve done in the past, but because they see me in the gym with ‘em. I don’t just sit around and expect to be listened to. I’m going to earn these guys’ respect with the way I approach practice, the way I approach film sessions, the way I approach weight room workouts. That’s the difference between me and a coach. And it’s not that they don’t trust the coaching staff, but it’s different when you’re sweating with these guys, diving on the floor, and feeling what they’re feeling. It tends to build a trust.”

Throughout Miami’s playoff run, there has been steady discussion of “Heat culture” and the mystique that comes with it. How real is any of this? What makes Miami different from any other team? Riley has often explained his organization’s values by saying he wants to cultivate “the hardest working, best conditioned, most professional, most unselfish, toughest, nastiest, most disliked team in the league.” But those ideals will take you only so far. For anyone curious about what “Heat culture” looks like in practice, understanding Haslem’s story is a good place to start.

“He’s the embodiment,” Spoelstra says. “Years on from here, when we’ll say, ‘What’s the Miami Heat culture?’ We can describe it and say, ‘Hardest working team, most professional, best conditioned, and so forth.’ Or we can just pull up a picture of Udonis Haslem.”

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game Five Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
Haslem during the 2013 Eastern Conference finals against the Pacers

I.

Udonis “UD” Haslem is the son of John “Deke” Haslem. His father starred at Miami Northwestern High School and was a fixture in summer leagues at Miami-Dade North Community College back in the late ‘70s. Udonis grew up in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami, and like every other kid who was alive in that city in the ‘80s and ‘90s, he idolized the University of Miami football team. He would watch the Hurricanes play at the Orange Bowl, and by the time he was in high school, he’d occasionally work games selling concessions. During Dolphins games at the height of Marino era, he’d sometimes head down to Joe Robbie Stadium, sit on a wall across the street, and watch the games via Jumbotron.

Haslem’s mother, Debra, became an important presence in his adult life, but she battled addiction through his childhood. He spent the majority of his childhood with his father and stepmom, Barbara Wooten. They had to “fight and scrap and claw” in the words of a high school coach, but their house was always warm and welcoming. And after the family had relocated to Jacksonville midway through his childhood, it was that same coach—Frank Martin, now the head coach at South Carolina—who welcomed Haslem back home to play at Miami Senior High School.

In the middle of high school basketball games, Haslem looked something like Shaq. He was 6-foot-8 and 280 pounds as a senior. He broke a backboard when he was in the ninth grade. But halfway through his high school career, when he transferred to Miami High, his game began to plateau. Martin coached Miami High from 1995 to 1998. In Haslem he inherited a high school junior with great feet, soft hands, and bad habits. “He was so much bigger and stronger than everybody,” Martin says. “Because of that, he had developed lazy tendencies.”

To solve that problem, Martin recruited a star from the football team—Mark Thurston, who would go on to play three years as a linebacker at West Virginia—to practice with the basketball team. Haslem laughs about this now: “He hacked the shit out of me every day. At that time, I thought basketball was fun. I learned quickly when I got to Miami High that if I wanted to be great, it wouldn’t always be fun. Coach Frank wasn’t gonna call no fouls. It was like, ‘OK, the chips are stacked against you. What you gonna do?’”

When Haslem enrolled, those Miami High teams were in the middle of a run that rivaled what the Hurricanes were doing to college football. The school won eight state championships across 13 years in the ’80s and ’90s. During Haslem’s two years, the team went 71-2, winning state titles in each season. His senior year, fans wore shirts that read “Been there. Won that. Back for more.” (Furthering the Hurricanes parallels: Miami High was later ensnared in a recruiting scandal that forced the 1998 state championship to be vacated.)

Anthony Grant, now the head coach at Dayton, was an assistant coach for Billy Donovan’s Florida program when Haslem’s teams were dominating Miami. Before that, Grant played at Miami High himself. “We had guys that had a passion for the game,” he says, “and had a passion for Miami High. We had a culture. Didn’t know that’s what it was called back then, but that’s what it was. It was highly competitive. Every person that came into that gym, either they were a part of it, or they got dominated by it.”

Haslem’s teams featured several other D-I prospects, including 16-year NBA veteran Steve Blake and local legends Brent Wright, Antonio Latimer, and Sylbrin Robinson. With that much talent, practices were incredibly competitive, and once the games began, everyone on the team had to sacrifice minutes and shots. Not every player who came to Miami High wound up staying four years. “We were a brotherhood,” Haslem says. “And we weren’t for everybody.”

Says Martin: “If you weren’t playing and you transferred to another school? They were cool with it. But if you tried to come back? They’d punch you in your face and throw you out of the gym. The players, they took pride in their gym and who was part of that.”

As for Haslem and his work ethic, Martin tells a story: “His junior year, we were getting ready for the state tournament, and he was not having a good practice. I’m not happy. So I made them run. We finish and I’m talking to the team, and [Haslem] is just throwing up. And I said, ‘Now we’re ready to go win.’ We ended practice right on the spot. We got Udonis to push himself to exhaustion, and everyone knew that was the challenge with him. But he took it like a champ and went out the next day and we destroyed the opponent. That had a lot to do with the mindset we were trying to create.”

By Haslem’s senior year, Miami High was nationally ranked, but given the talent all over the roster, Haslem averaged only about 13 points and six rebounds per game. He flew under the radar of most recruiting services. After he graduated, he was the least heralded member of a Florida recruiting class that was headlined by McDonald’s All Americans Mike Miller and Teddy Dupay.

Once in Gainesville, Haslem made an impression even before fall classes began. “I’d just gotten down there,” says Miller, “and we played pickup. I went to go dunk and he took me out of the air. I landed and he said there’s a no dunking rule.” Haslem grins at the memory. “No dumping,” he says. “There was a no dumping rule. And I was about 275 back then. He was about 190. So you can imagine, he got the short end of that stick.”

Shortly after that lesson, a mutual respect emerged. Haslem remembers thinking of Miller, “This motherfucker is cold. I’ve never seen a white boy like this. You hear about ’em, but you never see ’em. This is like a unicorn.”

Haslem, from Liberty City, and Miller, from Mitchell, South Dakota, were roommates at Florida. They quickly became best friends. “Me and UD got along off rip,” Miller says. “We didn’t have similar backgrounds, but we had similar visions moving forward. We both care about people, we both care about the game, and we both worked hard. You tend to gravitate to those type of people.”

Miller entered the NBA after his sophomore season. Haslem stayed through his senior year. He says his time in Gainesville was the best four years of his life. He made the NCAA tournament every year and was named All-SEC in three of his four seasons. He went to the school’s second-ever Final Four. He left as the winningest basketball player in school history. He met the woman who would become his wife, Faith, who ran track and field for the Gators. And in general, his worldview expanded.

“I’m not being funny,” Haslem says. “I’d never really had any white friends. In Miami it’s all Black people, Hispanic, Cuban, Dominican. … You think everybody lives like you until you meet other people. Then it becomes ‘Really? That’s how you live? None of your friends ever got arrested? None of your friends ever got killed?’ You think that’s the norm, because that’s how you grew up. Then you realize there’s a whole world you never even knew about.”

But then it was time for yet another world. Coming out of Florida, Haslem was the exactly the sort of doughy, undersized project that the league didn’t have room for at the time. He wasn’t picked in either round of the 2002 draft. Meanwhile, he had a young son to provide for at home. As the months passed after June, it became clear that his best option would be going overseas.

During a stint with the Atlanta Hawks at the 2002 Shaw’s Pro Summer League in Boston, Haslem met up with Frank Martin again. Martin had left Miami High to become an assistant at Northeastern. “He was miserable,” Martin says. Haslem had struggled to even make it into workouts for most teams. Among the handful who gave him an opportunity, he could see he wasn’t being seriously considered.

Sitting at lunch in Boston, he told his old coach that he’d done everything right, he’d won at every level, and he knew he was better than almost all the draft picks playing that week. “I know you’re better,” Martin told him. “But I don’t work in the NBA. And the reality is, the guys that do work in the NBA, they obviously don’t think you’re better.”

Heat v Lakers Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
Shaquille O’Neal dunks against his future teammate during Haslem’s rookie season

II.

Spoelstra was an assistant with the Heat in 2003. His first impression of Haslem came during a free-agent mini-camp before summer league, a year after Haslem had gone undrafted, and a few months after he’d caught the eye of Heat scout Chet Kammerer. During a workout that also happened to feature All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez, Miami coaches couldn’t take their eyes off Haslem. “His level of intensity and desperation far exceeded what should be normal,” Spoelstra says. “It was borderline dangerous. We were saying, ‘This guy is a Miami Heat player. We can’t let him out of this gym.’ Then the next day, the conversation turned into, ‘We may have to shut this guy down. He’s going to hurt people.’”

Spoelstra tells the story with half-pride, half-awe: “It was like a cage fight to him. It was, ‘We want this guy, and we may have to sit him out of some of the contact practices. Because he’s going to fuck some people up. People are going to walk out in body bags.’”

Haslem had spent much of the previous year in Chalon-sur-Saône, a small city in eastern France, where he averaged 16.1 points and 9.4 rebounds playing for a team called Élan Chalon. His season was a success, but that didn’t mean Haslem enjoyed it. “I gave myself one night to feel sorry for myself,” he says. “I had a one-night pity party. I had a bottle of Hennessy and I sat on my back porch. ‘Why am I here? I did everything right.’ Some of the guys that got drafted, I’d done really well against. I really didn’t understand. So I just gave myself one night.”

But even that night, his mindset began to change. “Part of my pity party was, ‘What can I do differently?’ It’s so easy to blame the NBA, blame the coaches. It’s easy to say they made a mistake. But in the end, I don’t think that gets you anywhere. So for me, part of that bottle of Hennessy was, ‘What do I need to do?’”

He says that he stayed on American time throughout his stay in France, staying up all night and sleeping during the day. The schedule was Haslem’s way of reminding himself that he wasn’t going to be in Europe for the rest of his career. He didn’t like the food, either, so he ate one turkey sandwich per day, occasionally sprinkling in some McDonalds in emergencies. And when he wasn’t sleeping or playing in the French league, where he battled the likes of Mickaël Piétrus and Boris Diaw, Haslem spent most of his time working out at a nearby gym he’d joined. In the end, after one season in France, he lost about 50 pounds and rendered himself nearly unrecognizable. David Thorpe, a development coach in Central Florida, saw Haslem’s new frame and worried he might be sick.

Udonis Haslem takes the layup Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
Haslem during a 2003 summer league while trying to make the Heat

After the season finished, Thorpe would be in charge of prepping Haslem for another round of NBA auditions. Along with fellow NBA hopefuls Kevin Martin and Josh Powell, Haslem woke up early every day for morning workouts and gym work. After lunch and an afternoon nap, Haslem would return to the gym for another round of drills at night. He didn’t read the news or even watch TV, and the routine continued day after day. “I didn’t know what the hell was going on in the world,” Haslem says of those weeks.

Thorpe’s message was simple: “Just rebound your ass off.” It had been the biggest hole in Haslem’s game at Florida, where he finished his career averaging just six boards per game. So they did drills to improve his agility chasing loose balls outside the paint. When they weren’t working on rebounding, they focused on 18-foot jumpers that would allow him to space the floor for everyone else. “We’re going to make the league with rebounding,” Thorpe told him, “but you’re going to get paid by learning how to shoot.”

The return on investment was almost immediate. Haslem led the Heat in rebounding at the Orlando Summer League and then went to Boston and did the same for an undefeated Spurs team at the Shaw’s Pro Summer League. “In high school,” Martin says, “he averaged six rebounds per game. That was my biggest fight with him: Go rebound the ball. He wouldn’t do it. Then in college, he was a 6.5-, maybe seven-rebound-per-game guy. It’s just not something he did. Well, the day the Miami Heat gave him a chance, he became their leading rebounder. That’s just who he is. He listens, and when things don’t go his way, he doesn’t pout. He fixes ’em.”

Haslem, for the record, went on to become the all-time leading rebounder in Heat history. But in 2003, it was all about those two summer league performances. Sensing interest from San Antonio in the wake of that undefeated Spurs run, Miami felt pressure to act. On August 6, the Heat offered Haslem a guaranteed contract that paid him $366,931 for the 2003-04 season. The deal came about six weeks after Miami had used a top-five pick on a 6-4 shooting guard from Marquette.

Miami Heat v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
Haslem and Wade during the national anthem before a game in 2007

III.

By the time they made it to the Heat, both Haslem and Dwyane Wade had become young fathers, both had mothers who had battled addiction, and both had made it out of neighborhoods that had swallowed many of their friends. There was an instant bond. “You’re talking about two kids from so far away,” Haslem says, “but we’d walked pretty much the same line.”

In the summer of 2003, they were inseparable. They went to the track together to run in the morning, headed to the Heat arena for skill work, hit the weight room, played pickup at Alonzo Mourning’s Overtown Youth Center, and then went out to eat before returning for one more workout at night. This process repeated itself almost every day, all summer long. Plus, Miami was Haslem’s city. “He took me around,” Wade says. “He opened the doors for me. He introduced me to the right people.”

Throughout that first season together, Heat players would place bets on 3-point shooting contests after practices. Most teammates would alternate partners throughout the year, but Wade and Haslem always chose each other. They never won. “Like, ever,” former Heat coach Stan Van Gundy says. As Wade notes 16 years later, “That’s because we were monsters of the midrange!”

According to team president Pat Riley: “The guy that took all their money, all the time, was [Heat assistant coach] Bob McAdoo. Mac was one of the great scorers in the history of the NBA, and he would hang right in there with those guys. He’d get involved in those shooting contests and he’d win all their per diem. I would see [Heat trainer] Ron Culp handing out per diem envelopes on the road and when he’d go to UD, he’d say, ‘Just give it to McAdoo.’ And then Dwyane, ‘Just give it to McAdoo.’”

Finally, after one practice near the end of the year, Van Gundy announced that the shooting contests that day would be double or nothing. And this time, of all times, Wade and Haslem won. After that, Van Gundy says, “They were going around claiming they’d been hustling people all year.”

“Those are the things that are fun about a team,” Riley says. “They would get into games with Damon Jones and Eddie Jones and all the other guys that could really stick it, and they’d lose all the time. But they had fun. That’s how they would create camaraderie.”

Van Gundy, who was Miami’s head coach from 2003 to 2006, still smiles at how much fun that first season was. “The team grew,” he says. “We started 0-7. Then we got to 5-15, and then in March we were 11 games under .500. I think we were 25-36. And then we won 17 of our last 21.”

“We were too young to know we were supposed to tank,” says Caron Butler, a swingman on that team. “We were just like, ‘OK, I guess we gotta win 20 in a row.’ And we had a group of guys willing to outwork everyone.”

Detroit Pistons v Miami Heat Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Haslem helps Wade up during an Eastern Conference finals matchup against the Pistons in 2005

Haslem would make a beeline for Riley after almost every practice that year. As Riley tells it, “He would come up to me and say, ‘Coach, what do you need from me? What do you want?’ I’d say, ‘Well, you’re a defender, you’re a rebounder, you’re gonna get every loose ball. You’re our enforcer. You’re our leader. That’s what I’m looking for you to grow into. You need to make a medium-range jumper. Be our best post defender. All of those things. If you do those things, you’ll start for me. And he did! He gave me exactly what I asked for.”

Of course, in between those fireside chats, there were also the infamous Heat conditioning tests. Butler remembers hiding out with Haslem during that first year, hoping to avoid Riley. “We were the chubby boys,” Butler says.

“You can’t be a world-class anything,” Riley says, “unless you’re in world-class condition. So we would come up with what we felt was that world-class number—body weight and body fat. And it wasn’t me just coming up with a random number. We did this scientifically over a period of time and had nutritionists and people who understood body mass and lean muscle mass and all of that stuff.”

If Heat players missed their target weight, they’d be fined. If they continued to flunk the tests, they could be suspended. “I used to like to random-test them,” Riley continues. “Because when you do it every Monday, then you have guys going to the sauna right before. Lose 7 or 8 pounds, make their weight, and then go right back. You could weigh in at 240 pounds and live a 250-pound life. So I used to do a random test. Like on a Friday or a Wednesday. I would bring the scale to half court, they’d walk up from the gym, and I’d say, ‘OK, OK. … Let’s get on the scale, let’s find out who’s been lying.’ We had fun with it.”

Haslem can laugh about this now, but he was careful back then. “I didn’t have any money,” he says, “so I ain’t trying to spend money on fines. And at the same time, I’ve never been intimidated by anybody in my life. Never scared of anybody. But Pat Riley. … It took me a little while. The last thing I wanted to do was piss him off.”

Haslem avoided fines and suspensions. The Heat’s GM at the time, Randy Pfund, had warned Haslem’s agent that even with a contract, the rookie probably wouldn’t play in his first season. He wound up starting on opening night. He made the Rookie-Sophomore Game at All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles. By year’s end, it was clear that Wade was a budding superstar, while his undrafted teammate had vastly exceeded even the most optimistic expectations.

After the aforementioned run through the regular season, Miami survived a first-round series against Baron Davis and the Charlotte Hornets before going six games with the top-seeded Pacers in Round 2. No one would confuse that Heat team with any of the title rosters that would come later—Miami assistant Keith Askins called Haslem and Brian Grant the “itty bitty committee” when they started in the frontcourt—but the energy of those players helped revitalize the franchise.

And then everything changed. In 2004, the Heat traded Lamar Odom, Butler, Grant, and a first-round pick to the Lakers for Shaquille O’Neal. Thorpe remembers a car ride with Haslem after the trade was finalized, when the coach asked whether UD had a good relationship with Shaq. “I don’t know,” Haslem told him. “We were playing him last year. Shaq was bitching up a storm about not getting calls. I just turned to him and said, ‘Shut the fuck up, you’re the biggest motherfucker on the court.’” Shaq, according to Haslem, was too stunned to respond.

Miami Heat v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Haslem and O’Neal fight for a rebound as teammates in 2004

IV.

One night early in Shaq’s Miami tenure, there were more officiating complaints. “Big Fella,” the 24-year-old Haslem told him, “they don’t want to give you a foul? Put everybody in the fucking rim then.”

“After that,” Haslem says, “he was just pulverizing people.”

As Haslem explains: “I was one of the guys who would hold Big Fella accountable. Not too many did it, but I was one. Only because sometimes I ended up having to do a lot of my job and his, defensively. When it got a little rough I would pull him to the side. But it was mutual. He would hold me accountable as well. He would get on me. He wouldn’t let up. I love him for that.”

This is one of the riddles from Haslem’s time in Miami—how does an undrafted player in his second season command the respect of a perennial MVP candidate and one of the most famous humans on the planet? Beyond Shaq and Wade, the Heat teams of that era also featured Alonzo Mourning, Antoine Walker, and Gary Payton. All of them looked at Haslem as a peer. “He had it right away,” Wade says. “When a guy plays the way he plays, that’s automatic respect. And [it was] the way he carried himself, as well. He’s a tough guy.”

“You have to be the truth,” Riley says. “And UD was that. When you’re that, night in and night out, and you see people who might not be giving that same kind of effort, on the court or off the court, you can call ’em out. He was not intimidated by anybody. Shaquille or Zo or Dwyane or anybody. If somebody was cutting slack here and not getting the job done, he would call ’em out.”

On the court, Haslem was ahead of his time. Ten years later, his defensive versatility, floor-spacing jumpers, and elite intelligence would have made him a cult hero among today’s nerdier basketball fans. He also might have doubled his career $60 million earnings along the way. “He was our best defender,” Riley says of Haslem on those Shaq teams. “He was a scorer at that time. Offensive rebounds. He’d do all the dirty work. But he was a very high-IQ player. Any situation we were in, any scheme we played defensively, he was on top of it. He would take the challenge against the best scorers at his position and he would fight tooth and nail.”

Udonis Haslem (L) of the Miami Heat guar Photo credit should read JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images
Haslem guards Dirk Nowitzki during the 2006 NBA Finals

When the Heat went to the Finals for the first time in 2006, Haslem was largely responsible for guarding Dirk Nowitzki. “Fronting him,” Riley says. “Fighting him, contesting him. Just making it hard.” Dirk, too, was ahead of his time, and Haslem shakes his head thinking about the matchup. “I was watching what he did to San Antonio, what he was doing to other power forwards. … There were no power forwards running off double screens on the baseline shooting 3s.”

Haslem admits he was worried throughout the series: “I gotta go back home to Miami, and if I get fried, my boys are gonna let me know about it. What fueled me was fear. Not a fear, like afraid, or scared. But fear of not being able to be there for my guys when they needed me. That’s the only thing I was ever afraid of in the game of basketball. I don’t know if it’s a shot I need to make, a defensive stop I need to make, a rebound I need to get. But the only fear I ever played with was the fear of not being able to be there when my guys need me.”

Ultimately, he held his own. The Heat came back from a 2-0 deficit to win the Finals, and while Nowitzki put up numbers, Haslem slowed him down enough to give Miami a chance. Wade averaged 34.7 points per game and won Finals MVP. Haslem’s per-game numbers were ordinary (6.5 points, 6.2 rebounds), but in Game 6 he buried three crucial jumpers in the fourth quarter to help seal the series win. He finished that game with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and his first NBA title.

As the celebrations began, and the reality sank in, Haslem finally broke down. In the visitor’s locker room in Dallas, Haslem was in tears as he gave interviews explaining his role. He chuckles about the scene now, saying, “There was a lot of champagne squirting around, man. Me and Dwyane didn’t know that we needed goggles. We were young.” Still, he admits that night was a turning point in his life and career.

“It’s emotional even thinking about it,” he says. “I still remember one of the local writers in Miami. Really praised me in high school. Praised me in college. Then when I got to the Heat it was, ‘Oh, he’s not good enough. Shaq’s never won with a 6-8 power forward.’ Like, what? [Shaq] played with guys like Travis Knight. I’d kill those guys. So it was those kinds of things. It was being undrafted. It was the Orlando Magic not even giving me a workout, and I’m the best player in the state at the time. It’s like, it wouldn’t hurt you to bring me in. I’m right here in Gainesville. They wouldn’t even open the doors for me. So there were a lot of those kinds of emotions. Being a young father, with a kid depending on you. Those pressures. It was a lot that I was able to let go of in that moment. I was able to take that chip off my shoulder.”

2011 NBA Finals - Miami Heat v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images
Haslem and LeBron James guard Jason Terry during the 2011 NBA Finals

V.

During the offseason before that first Heat title, Haslem turned down a contract offer from the Cavaliers that would have paid him $10 million more than the five-year, $20 million deal he eventually accepted in Miami. By July 2010, when LeBron James was on stage with Bosh and Wade in front of the whole world at American Airlines Arena, Haslem was watching the scene from his couch. “I’m sitting at home,” he says, “Like, Wow. We got a chance. But there’s part of you thinking, ‘OK. Where do I fit in?’”

Haslem was a 30-year-old free agent. Both the Mavericks and Nuggets were reportedly offering five-year deals worth about $34 million. Meanwhile, the entire sports world had just watched Miami use all its cap space on three superstars. “Plus,” says Riley, “we made a deal with Mike Miller. In order to get Mike, we had to get rid of Michael Beasley. There wasn’t any more room.” So a few days after that welcome party, Haslem called Wade to tell him that he loved him, but he had to leave. “I hung up,” Haslem says, “and I’m taking the exit to head downtown to meet with Pat to tell him the same thing: ‘Thank you for the opportunity, Coach. Nobody ever gave me a chance but you. I love you guys. But I’m moving on.’”

Five minutes later, Haslem’s agent, the late Henry Thomas, told him to wait on a meeting with Riley. Thomas also represented Wade, and the latter was organizing an emergency conference call with his new teammates. Within hours, the Miami superstars agreed to sacrifice portions of their max salary to free up enough room for Haslem. The deal he accepted in Miami—five years, $20 million—was $14 million less than what he’d been offered elsewhere, but that was fine with Haslem. “Dwyane taking less,” he says. “LeBron taking less. Chris taking less. Everybody was sacrificing for a common goal.”

“Of course we want X, Y, Z players,” Wade had told his new teammates. “But we need this player.” Plus, as Bosh notes: “We’re signing, we’re doing all these things, and then it’s like, Damn! It’s five of us [under contract]. We gotta get a team.”

Bosh uses an anecdote to explain Haslem’s role in Miami. “I believe in competition to the fullest,” he says. “After the game, I’ll help you out, I’ll babysit for you, it’s all good. But during the game? I don’t know you. If you fall on the floor and you’re wearing another jersey, I don’t help you. But specifically, I remember one time I helped somebody up. Not even thinking about it.”

Bosh had been with the Heat for only a few weeks at that point. “So halftime hits,” he says. “And UD makes a beeline for me. Like, ‘Yo, CB. Don’t help that man up. Don’t do that again.’”

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
Chris Bosh and Haslem celebrate a play in 2014

Bosh chuckles. “I couldn’t even say anything. He was just one of those guys—he would check you, but not in a way that’s crazy. He challenged you. It’s like, ‘Damn, you right, bro.’ He was just a constant presence where it was like, ‘Nah, you do it like this. This is the way to win.’”

Because of the way that team was built, because of LeBron’s presence at the center, and because of the specific era of media they inhabited, the energy around the Heat during those seasons was as wild as anything the NBA has seen before or since. When the team struggled, the mood was tense. Early on, Riley called Wade, James, and Bosh into his office and joked, “Hey we’re 9-8. Barely above .500. Great start!”

“I heard some stories,” Riley says now, “of some real down-and-out meetings. Where there was a lot of truth coming out about what some guys were doing or not doing. They went after the coach. The coach went after them. But at the end of the day, what you have to do is just let the team grow and build together. We had some very, very strong personalities. So [it was about] the suppression of the ego and accepting of your role, getting on with what your life is, with what sphere you’re in, in this bubble called the NBA. There’s a pecking order. And sometimes the pecking order can get really twisted. You can’t get around that. LeBron was the greatest player in the game at the time. And we had two other guys in Dwyane and Chris who were equal to him, to some extent, as far as what they were on their other teams. So it takes a mature team. It takes growth. There were some very loud, profane locker-room sessions. Guys really went after each other verbally. And when it was over with, it was over with. They’d go out and they’d play.”

No one in Miami ever gets specific about the substance of those conversations, but everyone agrees that Haslem served as an anchor throughout those meetings. “He set the tone in the locker room,” says Miller. “Whether you were right or wrong, if somebody said something in the locker room—even if UD thought it was right, if it wasn’t for the best of the team, he corrected you.”

“You need the Haslems,” Riley says, “the Mike Millers, guys who might not be superstars, to sort of keep it all together. It does get unwieldy and out of sorts in the media, and that can bleed into the locker room.”

“Understand this,” Miller continues, “the whole world was watching. And there’s five or six of us that are used to playing a certain way, and then people are like, ‘Oh, he’s not playing great, he’s not doing this, he’s not doing that.’ It all washes away when you win a championship, but when things are going bad, there’s guys that need to straighten it back up.”

Spoelstra remembers one night when the Heat were struggling and Haslem interrupted a timeout huddle. “I was diagramming something,” the coach says, “and he smacked [the whiteboard] out of my hands and said, ‘It ain’t about the fucking schematics. Compete harder!’”

Spoelstra laughs. “I just looked at everybody and said, ‘Check.’”

Fallen whiteboards aside, the chemistry between Haslem and his new superstar teammates came naturally. Bosh had always liked Haslem from afar. They first met when Bosh was in high school on a recruiting visit to Florida, where Haslem and Matt Bonner were his hosts for the weekend. As for LeBron, Riley says, “Udonis will accept anybody who’s a true competitor. At that time LeBron was probably the greatest player in the world, but LeBron was a competitor. So it was easy for UD and Dwyane to continue to have a real, deep brotherhood, and then LeBron came in, and he almost got married to the two of ’em. They were inseparable.”

On the court, Haslem likens those Heat teams to a bus. LeBron and Wade were the drivers, he says, “but if the oil ain’t changed, and the tires ain’t changed, the bus can’t go nowhere.” Haslem would change the oil.

When Bosh missed extended time during the 2012 playoffs because of a muscle strain, it was Haslem who played the lion’s share of minutes as his replacement. At that point, after losing to the Mavericks in the 2011 Finals, the Heat were down 2-1 to the Pacers in the second round. This was back when various corners of the basketball world were convinced that the Heat were mentally and physically weak. There were very real questions about what might happen if they came away from a second playoff run without a title. “You’re losing games,” Miller says, “and we know what the ramifications are.”

Then came a moment that’s become part of Heat lore. With the Pacers series tied at 2-2 and becoming increasingly physical, Tyler Hansbrough fouled Wade hard in the second quarter of Game 5. Haslem had seen enough. “I’d just got hit the game before,” he says. “Took some stitches. And I’ll take mine like a man. Because I can dish it and I can take it. There was no issue there. But when I saw Dwyane [get hit], I felt a little different about that. I saw Hansbrough and another guy on their team, they gave each other five. And I was like, ‘Ehhhhhhh. Now I’m mad.’ Anytime I’ve ever hit somebody, I never celebrated it. I never gave my teammates five like, ‘Yeah, I got him.’”

Haslem stood up from the bench before Spoelstra could even turn around. Says Haslem, “Spo was like, ‘No …’ And I was like, ‘Spo, stay out of this one. It’s gotta happen.’”

As soon as Hansbrough passed up an open jumper to attack the rim, Wade knew what was coming. “That’s who UD was,” Wade says. “Especially with me. He was always protecting me. He’d say, ‘I got it. You go be you. I’ll handle this. I’ll be that guy.’”

Sixty seconds after his foul on Wade, Hansbrough was met in mid-air and body-checked to the floor. Steve Kerr, who was doing the broadcast for TNT, argued that Haslem should be ejected for a flagrant-2. Haslem would later be suspended by the NBA for Game 6.

No one in Miami has any regrets. “It was a turning point for us,” Spoelstra says. “Really. In that series, the one perceived advantage they had on us was their physicality and their size. And UD, in one moment, basically said”—Spoelstra slams a fist into his open hand—“‘That is not an advantage over the Miami Heat.’”

The Heat outscored the Pacers 86-58 after Haslem’s foul. They finished the series 48 hours later in Indiana. Haslem was suspended for the elimination game, but Wade finished with 41 points and 10 rebounds in one of the best games of his career. After the elimination game, on the team plane in Indianapolis, Wade presented the game ball to Haslem in front of the entire team. “Those are the memories that we’ll all take with us,” Spoelstra says. “Twenty years from now, when we’re thinking about those championship runs, we’ll be thinking about those times.”

A month later, after a seven-game war with the Celtics, an all-time performance from LeBron in Game 6 of that series, and five games with the Thunder that were closer than most remember, the Heat were champions. Critics were silenced and trade rumors dissipated. But as for that Pacers series, it’s not the foul or the game ball that Haslem remembers most fondly. The night before the elimination game, Haslem went to Wade’s hotel room and gave him a book. “I won’t say what book,” he says, “that’s between me and him. But he’ll always remember it. He was going through a lot that year. I gave him the book and said, ‘Hey, this is something I read when I’m going through a lot. Read it.’”

“So Dwyane gave me that basketball,” he says, “but I don’t think it was for the foul. I think it was for the book. Sometimes in this game, you just need peace of mind.”

Brooklyn Nets v Miami Heat Photo by Oscar Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
Haslem leads a Heat huddle before a game in 2019

VI.

Almost 10 years later, Haslem is the godfather to Wade’s youngest daughter. He says that Wade is like a brother, while LeBron remains one of his closest friends in the NBA. The three of them get dinner any time they’re in the same city, swapping war stories and telling inside jokes. Most of that Heat team stays connected, regardless of where their careers have taken them. Riley says it’s unlike anything he experienced in L.A., or even with that first Heat time. “In 2005, when everybody got an iPhone,” Riley says, “the world changed. With Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat and all these other platforms, always texting each other, always sending pictures. The NBA has become a big brotherhood. And players that have the opportunity to play together like these guys did, on a special team—that’s a forever relationship. It never stops.”

After our interview for this story, Miller followed with a text that read, “Tell UD I love him please! He will shake his head, he hates when I get all soft with him.” When conveyed to Haslem, the power forward grinned and said, “I love him too. He should’ve played you the voice note I sent him on his birthday.”

Individually, Haslem’s success is now more of a Miami story than a Heat story. Married with three sons, he owns businesses all over the city—Starbucks franchises, a pizza restaurant, two bagel franchises, Auntie Anne’s pretzels franchises, Subway franchises, and a restaurant that he co-owns with Wade. For many of those businesses, he works with an outside firm to hire employees who might not pass a traditional background check. Meanwhile, his Udonis Haslem’s Children’s Foundation works to provide school uniforms, school supplies, and after-school programs for area youth. In October, he announced a real estate venture that will offer affordable housing in the increasingly gentrified Wynwood neighborhood of Miami.

For now, a full-time career in business can wait. Spoelstra cites Haslem’s “corporate knowledge” as the reason he remains invaluable to the Heat, and the coach publicly pushed for his return at the end of last season. “Basically,” Spoelstra says, “he’s going to have a lifetime contract with our franchise. And he should.” No longer a title team’s starter or the glue guy among superstars, today Haslem is the player who stays an hour after practice to work with Adebayo on post defense, work with Nunn on finishing drives, and then make sure that when Miami’s young wings are shooting, they’re doing it with a purpose, not just chucking up shots.

But if habits like that are why Haslem has come to personify Heat culture, it’s worth remembering that so much of who he’s become began before he ever got to the NBA. It began with Miami High, where Frank Martin kept his gym open day and night to keep his players out of trouble. Workouts didn’t end until someone vomited, there were fights, and every player in the gym had to sacrifice to be part of something great. It was an environment that could break some players and breed intense loyalty in others.

Understanding that history helps explain why Haslem is 40 years old, still maintaining 6 percent body fat, and now living in the Orlando bubble to help the next generation chase one more title. “I believe in cultures,” he says. “I’ve seen them work and I’ve seen them win. And I also believe in the older guys passing that to the next generation. The guys who came before me—Devin Davis at Miami High, Steve Edwards, Brent Wright. It’s the same thing here with the Heat. The Brian Grants passing it, Eddie Jones, Alonzo Mourning passing it to me and Dwyane. Those guys beat it into us every day, mentally and physically. On the court, off the court. They made sure.”

“We’ve done a lot behind the scenes that not a lot of people know about,” says Derrick Jones Jr. when asked about Haslem’s impact. “Not even just from a basketball standpoint. He’s taken me under his wing. He owns businesses. Just sitting down and talking to him, seeing his perspective on life, it’s helped me out a lot. I’m still a young kid, but you have to have something to do after basketball. Him being able to take time out of his day to help me. … It’s something I hold dear to my heart.”

“He’s seen everything,” says Adebayo. “So just listening to his stories, him and D-Wade, you learn a lot. From D-Wade, I learned how to be patient. You got the ball in your hands, you’re in control. And from UD, he wanted me to be aggressive. It started out, I just wanted to get in where I fit in. UD was like, ‘Nah. You gotta make people guard you.’ And I take pride in that now. I’m starting to be an aggressor and it’s working out for me.” Asked for an example of Haslem intervention, Adebayo laughs and says, “Today. I passed up an open shot and he looks at me [in the huddle] and says, ‘You gon’ shoot the ball?’”

All of the above is a coda to a career that’s unlike just about any other in NBA history. In the middle of one more playoff run, Haslem is a living testament to the wide variety of ways that a basketball player can win. Regardless of whether this season ends with a title, and whenever he finally retires, his story will always be amazing to a generation of basketball fans who remember watching him when he was 50 pounds heavier at Florida. And in Miami, it will always be more than that.

“Miami is home,” Haslem says. “It’s my city. It’s my town. You got Haitians, you got Cubans, you got Dominicans, you got Blacks. Everybody’s scratching, clawing every day just to make a living. There’s violence, you got kids playing football, trying to make it out the inner cities. And as much as people might be afraid of that, I embrace that. I want to be part of it in a positive way. All those kids know is what they see. That’s all I knew. I didn’t know there was a whole other world out there. I hadn’t been to South Beach until I got to the NBA. So for me, I had a chance to be the example for those kids. It’s a lot of examples in football coming out of Miami, but there’s not too many in basketball. And not just playing basketball, but to be a champion. To be a business owner. To be a good husband. To be a good father. I want those kids to see all those things.”

“It took me a while,” he says, “to see that vision. I had to go to Europe and do all those things. Just to come right back to Miami.”

Andrew Sharp is a lawyer and writer living in Washington, D.C. Previously, he’s written for Sports Illustrated, Grantland, and SB Nation. He hosts a twice-weekly NBA podcast.

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