Udonis Haslem has more than 522,000 followers on Instagram, so it’s but typical for him to see his posts draw significant reaction. Still, his latest contribution to the social media app tops the cake. Hitting Cyberspace yesterday, it featured a photograph of the Larry O’Brien Trophy ensconced in his locker-room stall at the AmericanAirlines Arena along with the caption “Too be continued Heat Nation!!!” and hashtags “#og” and “heatlifer.” Netizens pounced on the announcement; in a span of six hours, it drew a whopping 31,000 likes and nearly four figures in comments practically carrying the same message: “Legend.”
Indeed, Haslem is exactly that for the Heat. Since making the National Basketball Association as an undrafted rookie in 2003, he has been a model of hard work and perseverance. For all his supposed lack of talent, he has three championships to his name — including that in 2006, when he was a vital cog for then head coach and current president Pat Riley. He was still crucial to the cause during the LeBron James era, but, by then, it had become clear that he already left his best days on the court behind him.
All the same, the Heat know how much Haslem brings to the table. Off the floor, he’s as valuable as any other player in red and black, bar none. It’s why he has been serving as team captain for the last 11 years, and why Riley didn’t have second thoughts bringing him back for a 17th season. His Instagram post underscores the pride with which he competes, never mind the 228 DNP-CDs to his name. And given the myriad intangibles he brings, the $2.6-million veterans minimum contract he inked is a decided bargain.
Little wonder, then, that Riley, not normally predisposed to handing out praise, described Haslem yesterday as “the heart and soul” of the Heat. And even as, in all likelihood, his deal will be his eighth and last, it signifies his worth to an organization that always strives to win. Ask those who have had the privilege of burning rubber with him. They’re only too glad to have him around. If he talks a big game, it’s precisely because he walks the walk.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.