Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem is the first to admit his role has diminished over the years.
He no longer is the ferocious rebounder and player who made a living with the jumper from the elbow.
No, those days are long gone.
Haslem, however, is still making a big impact off the court. His work during the coronavirus pandemic and his words on social injustice have made him an even larger figure in the South Florida community.
"Just because I don't get the minutes that I used to get don't mean that I'm going to fade away and you're not going to see me or hear from me," Haslem said recently. I'm going to figure out a way to master the role that I have. The role that I have now is to be a leader," Haslem said. "People say people are born leaders. I couldn't have [been] born for this. I would have never seen this coming. But I'm here now. It's my responsibility to do something."
Haslem was among most active Heat players in the community the past two months. He delivered food to those in need and first-responders during the pandemic. When it came time to speak on Floyd, a black man who died in the custody of four Minneapolis police officers last month, Haslem did not hesitate.
After speaking out on social-media, Haslem then attended a city of Miami press conference. He spoke of his respect for law enforcement while also tackling the issue of police brutality against minorities.
"I just want to be a part of the solution," Haslem said. "We have to have a plan moving forward. It has to be together."
Several teammates applauded Haslem's willingness to step forward. Guard Goran Dragic tweeted a video of the speech and captioned it next to the words, "That's our leader." His former high school coach Frank Martin, now at South Carolina, wrote, "That’s my guy @ThisIsUD so proud of the man that u have become. U Always stand tall, taller the more difficult the situation."
Some have questioned where Haslem belongs in Heat history. He holds the franchise record for rebounds, is a three-time NBA champion and will have his jersey retired when his career ends. Combine that with his stature in the community and it's debatable if Ha has earned a spot on the Heat's Mount Rushmore alongside Pat Riley, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. He is longer tenured with the Heat than Shaquille O'Neal and played all 17 seasons in Miami unlike Alonzo Mourning. He has also maintained a strong work ethic even though his contributions have declined.
"UD is the beacon of leadership, not only for our organization but for the entire city and one of the beacons of leadership in this country," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said during a recent conference call with reporters. "He mentioned then that he didn't think growing up at any time that he would be a leader. I think moments create leaders and everything that UD has experienced in his life, coming from this community and really understanding all the complexity of this and the challenge of this has really prepared him to step forward and be a leader and get people off the sidelines and get into this fight, get into a form of action. I know he's moved me."
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