MIAMI — The ascension is complete.
Having learned at the side of arguably the greatest leader in the 36 seasons of the Miami Heat, Bam Adebayo has taken over as captain with the retirement of two-decade franchise icon Udonis Haslem.
While coach Erik Spoelstra tends to downplay such designations, it largely had been viewed as inevitable with Adebayo.
“UD isn’t around anymore, so we need a voice who knows what to say,” Adebayo said, with the Heat taking on the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night at Kaseya Center at the start of a three-game homestand. “He’s been mentoring me going on seven years at this point. Now he’s moved on. He’s still around. But when we get into games and need somebody to say something, I think I’m that guy.”
Now, formally that guy.
For Spoelstra the move to Adebayo was obvious and inevitable.
“He certainly is going to be a culture bearer,” Spoelstra said. “He lives this, breathes it and literally bleeds it. And he makes so much sense to be that next line of Miami Heat leadership, moving forward.”
In recent years, Haslem’s leadership had come both as paternal, as he moved into his 40s, and forceful, not afraid to challenge even as he was unable to challenge for playing time.
Adebayo, 26, by contrast, tends to be more fraternal, his reinforcement more positive.
“When you’ve banked so much equity with people and you’ve spent time with them, and you learn about their families, you start to care about people, it’s easier to have that interaction you want from it,” Adebayo said.
“Because it’s not like I met you Day One and just started yelling at you. You’d look at me like, ‘Why you yelling?’ But banking equity with somebody, I feel like that’s the difference when you want to have uncomfortable conversion.”
But he also appreciates that the requirements have changed.
“The biggest thing for me is being more vocal,” he said, now pushing through a hip injury that kept him out of Monday’s road loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
To Spoelstra, it has been a natural handoff in leadership, with Adebayo and Haslem particularly close since Adebayo was selected at No. 14 in the 2017 NBA draft out of Kentucky.
“I’ve really enjoyed seeing that process,” Spoelstra said. “It really started a couple of years ago, when UD was already starting to think about mentoring the mentor. And Bam has already taken steps in the previous years to be a little bit more of the caretaker for our culture.
“And this will be another step. And it’ll be a process with that, as well, as it was with UD.”
“He has seven years now in our culture,” Spoelstra said of Adebayo. “Jimmy will continue to lead in his way, and he has a way of pushing productivity in a way that I love, that’s just unique. And we need that. And K-Love, also, in a short period of time really stepped up and became a connector in our locker room.”
In some ways, Haslem remains captain emeritus, still a presence in the locker room and even occasionally on the practice court, while also regularly texting Adebayo.
“He loves this organization and this city too much to stay away,” Butler said, with Haslem having served as Heat captain since the 2007-08 season. “We respect him. We love him. And we want him to do that. But it’ll be between me, Bam, Tyler (Herro), all the way down the line to fill that void. It’s not going to be an easy thing to do, but we’ve got to figure it out.”
With Adebayo named captain, the first step has been taken, but, Spoelstra said, as always, it also has to be leadership on all levels.
“It’s not,” Spoelstra said, “just incumbent on one player.”
Miami Heat captains
2023-24: Bam Adebayo
2022-23: Udonis Haslem
2020-21: Haslem, Dragic
2019-20: Haslem, Dragic
2018-19: Haslem, Dragic, James Johnson
2017-18: Haslem, Dragic, Johnson
2015-16: Haslem, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh
2014-15: Haslem, Wade
2013-14: Haslem, Wade
2012-13: Haslem, Wade
2011-12: Haslem, Wade
2010-11: Haslem, Wade
2009-10: Haslem, Wade
2008-09: Haslem, Wade
2004-05: Eddie Jones
2004-03: Jones, Brian Grant
2002-03: Jones, Grant
2001-02: Jones, Grant, Alonzo Mourning
2000-01: Mourning, Tim Hardaway, Dan Majerle
1999-00: Mourning. P.J. Brown, Otis Thorpe
1998-99: Mourning, Hardaway, Keith Askins
1994-95: Bimbo Coles, Glen Rice
1993-94: Steve Smith, Grant Long
1992-93: Smith, Long, Rony Seikaly
1991-92: Long, Seikaly
1990-91: Long, Sherman Douglas
1989-90: Long, Seikaly
1988-89: Rory Sparrow, Scott Hastings