Spoelstra, as Heat honor Haslem: ‘Our forever captain, our forever mentor, our forever leader’

Tribune Content Agency

MIAMI — It is with mixed emotions, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, that he approaches moments such as Saturday’s Udonis Haslem Night at Miami-Dade Arena.

No, not out of any sort of lack of respect for the 42-year-old team captain who is retiring after this 20th season with the team, but simply because the finish line now is near.

“He’s everything to our franchise, so we all are looking forward to him getting recognized for all that,” Spoelstra said, with the Heat hosting the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night. “But I also feel a certain way about it, as well. I haven’t known a locker room as a head coach without UD in it, and I don’t want to start thinking about that yet.”

As the Heat move closer to their April 9 regular-season finale and then whenever their postseason ends, it will mean an end in Heat colors for No. 40. To that end, the team designated Saturday to designate Section 305 in his honor, on a night of Haslem posters being distributed and a halftime honor. Formal recognition will come later, including a special ceremony at Sunday’s team Family Festival and then next season the retirement of No. 40 to the rafters.

To Spoelstra, Haslem ranks up there on the team’s Mount Rushmore of Culture with Heat president Pat Riley, team owner Micky Arison and franchise fixture Alonzo Mourning.

“I think it’s a great salute to our forever captain, our forever mentor, our forever leader,” Spoelstra said of the team’s “4 Days of 40″ honoring Haslem. “When you speak about the culture, you automatically think of Pat, of Micky, of Zo and UD. That’s the culture.

“If you tried to explain our culture, you’d just show highlights of UD, not only in games, but if you could find just footage of him on the practice court, or of mentoring when no one else is in the gym, but somebody needs to do extra conditioning. And UD, who has proven everything in this game, is running with a young player, just to show them support.”

Memorable moment

Although not part of the planned Haslem tributes, Haslem found himself alongside Dwyane Wade and Bam Adebayo in Spoelstra’s office after Wednesday night’s victory over the New York Knicks.

That led to a photo of the four that went viral.

“Those are all just beautiful memories,” Spoelstra said. “So we’re in this game to compete for the ultimate prize. But we’re also in this to develop lifelong relationships. You have these shared, intense experiences together and then you hope you create these great memories and these bonds that will transcend just the game.

“That’s what that was that night. It was coming after a great win and the four of us piling into my office. And we’re not talking about touches, who’s getting the ball where or whatever.

“I treasure those kinds of moments.”

Memorable moment, too

As for Haslem and the Heat’s tribute, a piece at the team’s website this week revealed the culprit beyond a package of Depends left at Haslem’s locker, as a nod to his age. Turns out it is from the same teammate who has gifted him a walker and bedpan.

“I never told him it was me until literally now,” Adebayo said.

Haslem said in the piece it is all about the good-natured bond built.

“I crack jokes. Bam harasses me,” Haslem said. “There’s a difference.”