TORONTO — With his own number about to be raised to the rafters at Kaseya Center on Friday night, former Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem paused this week to clarify comments on another number on display above the Heat’s home court.
Last month, as he debuted his new The OGs podcast with former University of Florida roommate and former Heat championship teammate Mike Miller, Haslem spoke of his disdain of the Heat displaying the number from one of the Heat’s prime rivals.
As in the No. 6 of Bill Russell that the entire NBA honored in the wake of Russell’s death on July 21, 2022.
Later in that episode, Haslem said, “I got to apologize. It wasn’t about Bill. It was just about the rivalry, about how I feel about the Celtics. But I will not take back my statement.”
The clapback was swift, particularly from media outlets in Boston.
“Everybody understands what that No. 6 goes for,” Haslem said of the late Celtics championship icon and civil-rights activist.
“With that being said, first, as a Black man, I understand what Bill Russell has done for us. Aside from basketball, what he’s done as a Black man just for us to move forward in life. I have a lot of respect. Love what he’s done on the basketball court, as well. Being a champion, I’m all about winning. So if I apologize to anybody, it would be Bill Russell’s family.”
But that’s where Haslem drew a line.
“Boston people?” he said of where his act of apology ended. “You’all got a better chance of wrestling an alligator. I’m not apologizing to you for nothing.”
Russell’s number is hung on a south wall of Kaseya Center, where the Heat also have honored the No. 23 of Michael Jordan for his contributions to the game, and the No. 13 of Dan Marino for his Miami Dolphins and South Florida philanthropic legacy. Haslem’s number will hang from the east rafters, alongside the retired Heat numbers of Tim Hardaway (10), Alonzo Mourning (33), Shaquille O’Neal (32), Chris Bosh (1) and Dwyane Wade (3).
Haslem wanted to make clear that Friday is a celebration of No. 40, not a time to look askance at No. 6.
“Bill Russell’s family, I will apologize because that might have come off as insensitive in the heat of the moment,” Haslem said. “But I got a lot of love for Bill Russell and a lot of respect for Bill Russell. So as a man, if I came off wrong, I apologize.”
With the Raptors already at the time in advanced talks about the Wednesday trade that sent Pascal Siakam to Indiana, and with former teammate OG Anunoby dealt by Toronto last month and Fred VanVleet having departed in free agency in the offseason, Heat guard Kyle Lowry was asked at Wednesday morning’s shootaround about the deconstruction of his former team.
“It’s different,” Lowry, who left the Raptors for the Heat in the 2021 offseason in free agency, said ahead of Wednesday night’s game against the Raptors at ScotiaBank Arena. “The team is a completely different team from when I was here.
“It’s definitely weird not having the guys around as much, but still a place I love and an organization I’m already going to love.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra reflected Wednesday on Heat play-by-play telecaster Eric Reid this week being named Florida Sportscaster of the Year for the fourth time by the National Sports Media Association.
“He’s one of the best in the business, and that’s the essence of greatness, to be able to do it consistently, year after year,” Spoelstra said. “He’s one of the first people I met way back when, in 1995. So he has brilliance and greatness at what he does at his occupation and for the Heat. Any of us that have gotten to know him behind the scenes really what the award could be about is what a great guy he is, what a great person he is. We just love having him with us, and having all those moments on the road where we get to hang out and chop it all up.”