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‘A dream come true’: Heat honor Udonis Haslem with jersey retirement ceremony

MIAMI — Udonis Haslem has played in front of many sold-out crowds at the Kaseya Center. The fans often filed into their seats to cheer on stars like Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler.

On Friday, they were there for him.

Nearly 20,000 fans honored the Miami lifer as the Heat — the only NBA franchise he ever played for — retired his No. 40 during a halftime ceremony against Atlanta.

“It’s legacy,” Haslem said. “When you come here and you look up in those rafters and you see me sitting next to — and it’s not about me — but look at the list of the guys I’m sitting with. That’s what’s huge to me. That’s what makes me feel so amazing is the core group of guys that I’m sitting with. (Pat Riley) ain’t just putting anybody up there. The Arisons ain’t just OK’ing anybody to go up in those rafters. So to be in that group and to be in that family of guys, that’s what’s going to be the most memorable to me because all of those guys are Hall of Famers. I might not get in, but in my heart, in my soul, I’m just as loved and just as appreciated in this organization as any of those guys.”

The Heat have retired six other jerseys: No. 1 for Chris Bosh, No. 3 for Wade, No. 10 for Tim Hardaway, No. 32 for O’Neal and No. 33 for Alonzo Mourning. They have also retired Michael Jordan’s No. 23 though he never played for them.

The team presented Haslem with a framed Heat Culture jersey signed by the current team, and videos of players praising Haslem played on the Jumbotron before and during the game. Former Heat players including Wade, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, Goran Dragic, Tim Hardaway, Quentin Richardson, Jason Williams and Dorell Wright attended the game Friday night.

In addition to retiring Haslem’s number, the Heat made a $50,000 donation to the Udonis Haslem Foundation, presented Haslem with a replica of the jersey being retired and gave Haslem a painting by local artist Disem, who painted the Udonis Haslem mural in Wynwood. The team also presented Haslem with the three arena seats where Haslem’s parents and stepmother would sit in the arena.

“That was emotional,” Haslem said. “So I thank those guys once again to be able to have those seats forever with my parents’ names on it. I could have never imagined that happening. I didn’t see that coming.”

During a halftime ceremony, Heat broadcaster Eric Reid introduced the Miami legend, and Riley followed him.

“It’s a great day for the city of Miami,” Riley said.

Haslem, wearing a necklace with his number and the acronym O.G. (for original gangster), gave about a 10-minute speech. He joked that his friends likely bet on whether he would cry, but he said he needed to discard his planned speech because he was too emotional to read it.

“I had a speech written and once I saw or I heard the quotes from my parents and I saw the seats and just the whole thing, I couldn’t even read my speech,” Haslem said. “The speech was out the window, I couldn’t keep it together. So I didn’t cry, but I couldn’t necessarily read the speech the way I practiced it 1,000 times. It just didn’t work out that way. So I just had to come off the top [of the head].”

Haslem spoke about his parents, teammates, coaches and more. He related a story about having to hustle to earn his spot on the team after signing as an undrafted free agent.

“Maybe you do remember,” Haslem said to Riley, “that rebound in ’03 when the ball rolled to halfcourt and I was the only one to chase it. And you blew the whistle and you looked at me. You said, ‘Why didn’t you stop?’ I said, ‘Well, at that time, I didn’t hear a whistle.’ And you looked at me and you smiled.

“I think it was that point in my career that I knew how I was going to make it. I had to work harder. I had to chase every rebound. … I knew what my superpower was going to be in this league from that moment. You showed me what I needed to do to be a part of this league, be a part of this organization.”

Haslem, who starred at Miami High before a Hall of Fame career at the University of Florida, played 20 seasons with the Heat. After playing a season in France, Haslem joined Miami for the 2003-04 season, playing a key role off the bench. He earned a starting spot the following season and was a fixture at power forward for five seasons.

In 2006, Haslem played a key role as the Heat won their first NBA title. He scored 10.7 points per game and notched 8.3 rebounds per game that season.

Haslem played a key role, primarily off the bench, during Miami’s Big Three era, playing in 198 games and starting 87 while the Heat made four straight trips to the NBA Finals and won two championships.

The veteran settled into a leadership role with limited playing time late in his career, playing in just 108 games during his final eight seasons with the Heat. But he showed one last glimpse of his skills against the Magic last year, scoring 24 points in 25 minutes on April 9 in the final regular-season game of his 20-year career. Haslem is currently the Heat’s Vice President of Basketball Development.

“The one common thing that UD said and all the guys said is just how fast it goes,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Then all of a sudden, you have a night like this. Now, not everybody can have a night like this. That just speaks to UD’s greatness as a culture steward and the impression and the relationship that he’s created here in this organization. It’s remarkable. You look at the names that are up there and UD’s name is going to be up there tonight, it’s surreal.”

Haslem finished his career with 7.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. His name is all over the Heat record books. He is second in franchise history in games played (879) and minutes played (21,719), trailing only Wade in those categories. Haslem is Miami’s all-time leader in rebounds (5,791).

“I earned it. I earned it. It was not given,” Haslem said he thought when his jersey was raised to the rafters. “I had to work twice as hard just to have a seat at the table. So to finally see that, I hope that there’s somebody that can relate to this because I think all of us have been in situations where somebody has told us what we can’t do or what we’re not capable of, put a cap on us. Where I come from, a lot of people don’t like to see us make it out. They like to keep you in that situation. So to be able to get out, make it, excel and succeed, I hope it’s a great example for other kids in Miami, in Liberty City and for my kids, as well.

“Like I said, Dwyane taught me how to dream. This is a dream come true.”