By Ira Winderman Sun Sentinel
The constant for Udonis Haslem has been seizing the moment when doors have opened.
It happened in 2003, when a training-camp invitation turned into what is now a 17-season Miami Heat career.
It happened in 2007, when Pat Riley needed a team captain and the Miami native was the choice, still in that role 13 seasons later.
And it is happening again, as Haslem turned 40 Tuesday, now the NBA’s oldest player and lone 40-year-old, with the career of 43-year-old Vince Carter coming to a close with the Atlanta Hawks left out of the league’s restart plan.
“I’m still a hero to the kids in Liberty City, even though I’m 40 years old,” Haslem told the Sun Sentinel of the milestone, joining Juwan Howard as the only players in the franchise’s 32 seasons to play into their 40s. “There’s still stories told about me, ‘Hey, you can make it. Look at him. Look at what he’s doing to impact the community.’ “
Having appeared in only three games this season, for a total of 21 minutes, there had been an air of finality prior to the league’s March 11 shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But with the Heat utilizing Haslem as a unifying force amid the stoppage, Haslem has gone to the polls to consider what’s next. It is a decision now complicated by the league’s plan to close out the season on the Wild World of Sports campus at the Disney World complex, meaning no opportunity for an AmericanAirlines Arena curtain call.
“It’s the first time that I’ve ever done this,” he said on a recent Instagram Live session on ESPN, “but I’m actually gathering input from a lot of my teammates moving forward. You know, ‘How do you guys feel? What do you guys think my value is to you guys?’
“I understand my value. And I understand. But I want to make sure that my message is always being translated to these guys the right way, as far as pushing these guys to be champions, and as far as also being the keeper of the culture.”
Not only is Haslem the league’s only active player at 40, but beyond 39-year-old Kyle Korver, no other player is older than 37. As it is, at 36, Heat teammate Andre Iguodala is now the NBA’s fourth-oldest player.
The birthday wishes filled social media, including a Heat video of a mural of Haslem’s likeness going up in Miami.
It has been during these past few days and weeks, well in advance of the NBA’s planned July 31 restart just outside of Orlando, that Haslem has shown how his basketball reach has helped activate a community, at the forefront of both Black Lives Matter rallies and food distribution amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
“UD is the beacon of leadership, not only for our organization but this entire city, and one of the beacons of leadership in this country,” coach Erik Spoelstra said over the weekend. “He mentioned then that he didn’t think growing up in any time that he would be a leader, and I think a moment creates 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 prepared him to really step forward and be a leader for everybody to really get people off the sideline and get into this fight and get into a form of action.”
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