MIAMI (AP) — There’s going to be dozens of players left out in the cold at next week’s NBA draft, players who will not hear their names called by the time the night is over.
Udonis Haslem knows how they’ll feel.
He also may be the example they’ll need.
Undrafted in 2002, Haslem — a Miami native who has spent his entire NBA career with his hometown Miami Heat — has been in the league longer than just about any other active player.
He’s planning and hoping to sign this summer to return for a 16th season, something that was not only unlikely but unthinkable after every team passed when given the chance to secure his services through the draft.
“My mind works differently,” Haslem said. “I know when one door closes, another door opens. That’s the way it’s always been for me.”
Out of the 57 draft picks that all went ahead of Haslem in 2002, only one — Nene — was on a roster last season. Haslem has outlasted almost everyone who was in the league when he arrived as a rookie in 2003 following a year in France; just 12 players who were in the NBA in 2002-03 remained on rosters this past season.
He’s one of many undrafted success stories in the NBA right now: Utah’s Joe Ingles and Philadelphia’s Robert Covington played huge roles for their respective teams reaching the second round of the playoffs, Miami’s Tyler Johnson is about to see his salary explode to nearly $40 million over the next two seasons, and Boston’s Aron Baynes became a pivotal part of the Celtics’ rotation this season while appearing in 100 games.
They’re all proof that if there’s enough skill, the NBA will eventually notice.
“UD would never get told no,” his longtime Heat teammate Dwyane Wade said. “I remember when I came in for my Heat workout before the draft and asked who the guy getting every rebound was and they told me, `That’s Udonis Haslem.’ And I didn’t even recognize him because of how much he’d changed his body. I knew right away that he was a guy I wanted on my team.”
Haslem was an underrated part of all three of Miami’s championship teams in 2006, 2012 and 2013. He barely sees the court anymore, appearing in only 30 games over the last two seasons. But he remains invaluable to the Heat for what he brings to the locker room and from a leadership perspective, which is why he’ll probably be on Miami’s roster next season — although Thursday, Haslem floated the idea of possibly looking to play in Europe or China if things in Miami don’t work out.
“When you talk about culture and Miami Heat culture, you’re talking about Udonis Haslem,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The way he keeps himself ready, the way he’s always working, the way that he’s a voice in our locker room, he epitomizes what it means to be a Miami Heat player. We tell people all the time, if you want to understand our culture, look at UD. He is our rock. He has the ultimate respect of this locker room.”
It hasn’t been easy. Haslem has reinvented himself more than a few times along the way.
“He impacts winning,” said Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan, Haslem’s college coach at Florida. “He knows exactly what goes into winning. He’s a consummate warrior, an unbelievable competitor.”
Haslem was a 300-pounder during his college days at Florida, which explains why he went undrafted; he’s now chiseled, with nary a speck of visible body fat on his 38-year-old frame. He was terrible with money when he entered the league; he still cringes at particularly wasteful expenditure — an ostrich couch — that he quickly ruined. He not only didn’t open his mail, he didn’t even know where it was being sent.
Today, he’s a budding mogul.
Haslem has ownership of no fewer than 13 franchises — Subway, Auntie Anne’s, Starbucks and Einstein Bros. Bagels among them — in his rapidly growing business portfolio. He’s partnering with Wade on some future projects.
“I’m not complaining. I’m continuing to stay motivated, putting basketball energy into business energy,” Haslem said. “The things that I deal with are things that I’m engaged in, things I believe in. If I invest in something, I’ve eaten there.”
That’s another lesson for this next generation of NBA players. Haslem has made himself rather wealthy despite never signing what would be considered a massive contract by NBA standards. The most he ever made in a season was just over $7 million — a fortune for most people, yet pretty pedestrian for those who have been in the league this long.
“UD is a great example of what happens if you work,” Heat guard Goran Dragic said. “That’s how he made a great career.”
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