These have been tense times for Udonis Haslem, sweating out these playoffs, stakes raised, clock ticking.
Oh, and he’s been involved with the Miami Heat’s championship chase, as well.
Consider it playoffs squared for the South Florida icon, because the veteran Heat captain also can’t get enough of his Florida Panthers.
“It’s exciting, really exciting,” Haslem said amid a playoff chase of his own, both teams now on to the next round. “The way they have been able to play this year has captivated my attention.”
In some ways, Haslem is a typical middle-aged (sorry, UD) suburbanite caught up in the NHL, with FLA Live Arena in Sunrise a short drive from his Southwest Ranches estate.
“They’re keeping me on the edge of my seat,” he said. “It’s really something.”
The connection to the game and to the Panthers is about more than proximity, though.
It also is about a brotherhood, a fellowship, the ability to see himself in those who have put their careers on ice.
In addition to his friendship with Panthers forward Anthony Duclair, he has forged a bond with Brett Peterson, the first Black assistant general manager in the NHL.
“As I started to take stuff toward retirement and ownership and different things like that,” Haslem, 41, said, “I just wanted to align myself with like-minded people that can teach me things. So I’m being a sponge.”
Peterson said there was an instant connection.
“You look at U.D.’s career and him being an undrafted player and all the success he’s had, a three-time champion, and I was undrafted as well,” said Peterson, who spent five seasons playing minor-league hockey after four seasons at Boston College, and then moved on to become a player agent before taking his current Panthers role.
“We had a couple of mutual connections. But then we did a program with the Panthers called 28 Days of Black Excellence and UD was a participant of that 28 days. And the whole idea of the 28 days was to highlight the diversity here within our community and bring light to what we’re doing.”
Peterson said the goal is for himself, Haslem, Duclair to serve as beacons.
“As players,” he said, “we emulate our favorite player and we know who he is and we aspire to be that player. And one of the things I wanted to bring light of is that there is another path for all of us. And I think that there’s a lot of untapped excellence.”
In bringing light, Peterson also opened one particular set of eyes.
“I love f’ing hockey,” Haslem said as he exited a practice session.
Still, the Panthers’ opening-round series victory resulted in a domestic dispute.
“It’s been a very nervous time,” Haslem said with a smile. “My wife is from D.C. Obviously she’s a Capitals fan. So it’s a little in-house rivalry.”
That had Peterson laughing.
“You got to live somewhere,” he said. “So I feel for UD.”
The goal, Peterson said, is as much simultaneous Heat and Panthers playoffs as possible.
“I grew up in Boston,” Peterson said, “and we had the fortune of having tremendous sports teams that were all united and all had success at the same time. I watched the Red Sox pull for the Bruins, and the Bruins pull for the Patriots, and the Celtics pull for the Patriots.
“And we had the experience that it was essentially our town as a sports team, as a whole. I think it’s important, because it pushed each franchise to be the best version of itself.”
Stylistically, the Heat and Panthers have displayed contrasting approaches, the Heat with their defensive bent, the Panthers with their record-setting scoring.
“It’s really exciting, really exciting. Teams don’t score goals at the pace that the Panthers do,” Haslem said. “It’s crazy the way they score goals and come back.”
Peterson said the commonality is organizational drive and championship vision.
As for Haslem, who already has three championships, it’s all a matter of expanding his horizons, Mr. 305 getting chills from what is happening in the 954.
“It’s part of my overall growth as Mr. Florida,” he said with a smile. “I’m expanding from just Mr. Miami to Mr. Florida. It’s a great time to be in the city of Miami. But it’s also a great time in the state of Florida.”
IN THE LANE
EVERYONE WINS: When it comes to playoff awards, the NBA has it covered like never before. In addition to naming the trophies for the playoff conference champions, the Bob Cousy Trophy for the East winner and the Oscar Robertson Trophy for the winner of the West, there also will be, for the first time, trophies for the MVPs of each of the two conference finals. The Larry Bird Trophy will go to the East finals MVP, the Magic Johnson Trophy in the West. What the move does not address is that voting for the annual awards still does not include the playoffs. So the league MVP (Nikola Jokic) goes out in the first round, while other leading contenders play on. Play well in the NBA Finals or conference finals, get an award. Play well in the first and second rounds, and it counts for nothing (other than, of course, advancing). Take Jimmy Butler, for example, it would seem his playoff play should have greater bearing on All-NBA or other awards. Instead, that clock ends after the first 82, games with significantly less meaning.
BETTER WAY: Because he got his way, James Harden was with the 76ers for their playoff series against the Heat, as impotent as he proved to be. But he also got his way by essentially quitting on the Brooklyn Nets and forcing his midseason trade. In his postseason recap, Sean Marks, the former Heat center and current Nets general manager, said this past week, “I think when players’ minds are made up, I think it’s foolish to try and change their minds. If it’s not a fit and you’re paying a guy $30-plus million and it doesn’t work, you have to make a decision. I think that’s something that we did. We pivoted quickly.” Or a player can honestly and fairly play out his contract. That, among all the NBA’s ongoing personnel issues, is one Commissioner Adam Silver has to address sooner rather than later.
BACK AT IT: Mario Chalmers, who received a 10-day contract from the Heat but never saw action during the team’s midseason COVID outbreak, is returning to the halfcourt Big3 summer circuit – with a twist. Chalmers is slated to coach 3s Company, with the three-man team expected to add, according to ESPN’s Andscap site, Chalmers’ former Heat teammate Michael Beasley as a co-captain. Chalmers finished this past season with the Heat’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
LINKED UP: Heat guard Kyle Lowry is among those scheduled to compete in the July 10-16 American Century Championship celebrity golf even in Lake Tahoe in July. It is a field scheduled to also include Justin Timberlake, Charles Barkley and former Heat guard Ray Allen.
REALITY CHECK: With the Heat’s defense also thriving in the second round, it meant Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young having to deal with clips of how the Heat suffocated him in the first round. Of the hangover from his team falling 4-1 in the first round to Heat, Young told Atlanta’s Journal Constitution, “It’s more about mentally and what I was in the moment, remember from the game but also some of the moments that they’re still showing of bad plays that I made, certain things like that, and bragging about their Heat defense, you know what I’m saying? It’s little things like that that I still see. It’s like, I can get better, and I know I will.”
HUH?: For all that went wrong for the 76ers in the second round against the Heat, perhaps nothing was as, um, stunning, as the 76ers running their offense during the third quarter of their win-or-be-done Game 6 loss through . . . Shake Milton. “We were searching for whatever we could get at that point,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. “That’s not a good place to be, but it was the place we were in and you just try to do what you can do to get your offense going.”
22-5. Heat record, regular season and playoffs, with Max Strus as a starter this season.