It took almost five months for Udonis Haslem to play in a game for the Miami Heat this season — and he didn’t last very long.
Haslem, who appeared in a game for an 18th straight season, played three minutes before getting ejected early in the second quarter of Thursday night’s 106-94 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
“It was fun,” Haslem said afterward. “It was fun. For me to just go out there and play the game of basketball, show that I can continue to play at a high level and help my team win, it was fun.
“It’s a great memory. And, if this is the last one, I finished it the only way Udonis Haslem could: with an ejection.”
Haslem checked in with 59.3 seconds to go in the first quarter of Miami’s final home game of the regular season, getting a standing ovation from the several thousand fans in attendance.
And briefly, he had some success. The first time he touched the ball was to nearly save it on the baseline late in the first quarter, and he followed that up with a nice catch and finish on the break to end the quarter. Haslem then took a charge on the first possession of the second quarter, and he followed that up with a baseline jumper from the deep corner in front of Miami’s bench a couple of possessions later.
But after Sixers center Dwight Howard threw Haslem to the floor on one possession, Haslem sat on the court for a moment, appearing to gather his thoughts, before eventually getting up. At the next whistle, however, he got into Howard’s face before shoving him, resulting in him being ejected from the game.
Haslem is the only player in the past 20 years to play in one game and get ejected from it, according to research from ESPN’s Stats & Information.
“It was obviously very physical,” Haslem said. “Dwight plays the way Dwight plays, and it was just a conversation between me and him that I just wanted to make it clear that the throwing down and the swinging of the elbows and things like that, I just felt like we should kind of leave that out of the game for tonight. I think he kind of disagreed, so when he disagreed, I disagreed, and there was a whole bunch of disagreeing.
“I don’t remember what happened. At the end of the day, I am who I am. I am who I am. I can’t change now. You know what I mean? My stepmom texted me right after the game and said I did the right thing, so I have no doubt in my mind I did the right thing.”
Heat star Bam Adebayo, however, summed things up simply.
“You, this motherf—er is crazy!” Adebayo said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘UD, you can’t get tossed in your first four minutes, bro.’ How long was he in the game? Four minutes? Three! Three minutes, and you get tossed!
“I said, ‘OG, You taught me a lot. You never teached me to get tossed in three minutes … it was kind of like a big brother moment, but I got to be big bro at that time, you know? So it was a good moment for me. It was like a teaching lesson. Just don’t get tossed in the first three. You can get the first tech, and then wait ’til the second half to get the other one. Momentum swings.”
The irony of Haslem’s dust-up with Howard was that earlier in the first quarter, he had served as a mediator when teammate Trevor Ariza got into it with Sixers superstar Joel Embiid after Ariza took exception to Embiid’s rolling into Ariza’s leg, causing him to hurt his ankle.
Haslem, who will turn 41 next month and is the NBA’s oldest active player, has been a bit player for the past several seasons for Miami, as Thursday’s game was just the 45th he has played over the past five seasons and the 82nd he has played over the past six.
A Miami native, Haslem has played only for the Heat, with whom he signed in 2003 as an undrafted free agent after spending his first year after college at the University of Florida playing in France.
“The plan was to play more minutes,” Haslem said with a smile. “The plan was not to play three minutes.”
He told reporters in Miami recently he was unsure whether he would return next season for a 19th year in the NBA, though it’s clear the Heat will continue to employ him for as long as he wants to be around.
“I haven’t thought about it,” Haslem said. “But I’m sure [Heat coach Erik Spoelstra] and our guys keep those things close to hand and understand the importance of that. But for me, if we don’t win the Detroit [regular-season finale] and I got in, it really wouldn’t matter. My thing is, let’s win out this season, let’s get this best playoff spot we can possibly get and let’s go in here and try to get it done.”
Spoelstra, for his part, hopes Haslem will be back yet again next season.
“A little bit,” Spoelstra said, when asked if he’s lobbied for Haslem to come back next year. “It’s not like I’ve been openly recruiting him, but I just continue to tell him, like, ‘We don’t have to make any kind of decision now. Let’s kick this down the road.’ Everybody knows in this building, but most importantly in that locker room, the level of impact that he has. That’s developing leaders in that locker room, and helping teach and cultivate a culture that means something to us. It’s not him just barking that out, it’s rolling up his sleeves and developing the next wave of leaders in the Heat culture, and I just think that’s been amazing.
“There’s been so many amazing chapters in his career, and I’ve just enjoyed watching him evolve to this kind of mentorship. It’s felt by the young players, for sure. The young players are going to remember UD for the rest of their entire careers, but the veteran players, to me, he’s had just as much of an impact, developing them, keeping them stable, keeping them growing, and continuing to evolve, and that’s from his really incredible guidance that he can reach anybody in that locker room, and the staff.
“He’s constantly a mentor to me, and the rest of the coaching staff. I don’t want to think about the next phase, and I don’t think we need to now. We’ve got enough on our plate. I know that’s all UD is thinking about, too.”